By Nick Seddon
Nicky Henderson believes the Aintree Bowl at the Randox Grand National Festival could prove to be the “race of the year” as he prepares to step Shishkin up to three miles for the first time in the feature race of Opening Day (Thursday April 13).
The nine-year -old is perhaps best known for his exploits over two miles to date, winning both the 2021 Arkle Trophy at Cheltenham and the 2022 Clarence House Chase at Ascot at that trip.
However, he relished the step up to 2m 5f when winning the Grade One Ascot Chase by 16 lengths in February and showed staying qualities when running on to finish second in last month’s Grade One Ryanair Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.
Now Henderson is planning to run him in the Aintree Bowl, which looks likely to include several protagonists from last month’s Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup, including Bravemansgame (second), Conflated (third) and Protektorat (fifth), as well as the 2021 Gold Cup winner A Plus Tard.
The Seven Barrows trainer said: “The Bowl is going to be some race because everyone’s threatening to run. It won’t be a re-run of the Gold Cup because I can’t see the Gold Cup winner coming (Galopin Des Champs), but I can see the rest of them coming. So he’s going to have join in with them. It could easily be the best race of the year.
“Ascot suggested that 2m 5f wasn’t a problem so you’re going three extra furlongs on an easier track. So it shouldn’t technically be a problem.
“If this works then that will definitely tell us where we go next year. You’d be thinking about the King George or even the Betfair Chase to start with. And if the King George goes well then obviously you’ve got to think about the Gold Cup. But again, everything has to go right.”
Henderson also admitted he and his team have needed to iron out a couple of issues since The Festival, after Shishkin looked awkward at times during the Ryanair Chase last month, jumping left throughout.
He added: “We haven’t found issues that we haven’t corrected and I’m hopeful he won’t do all that again. He shouldn’t. We haven’t done anything dramatic, it was more physio, chiropractors - hopefully we’ve helped him.
“He’s a horse that has in the past had a few issues. We had those issues and we got him right and it all came together at Ascot and then we slightly fluffed our lines at Cheltenham, which was sad.
“But he still finished a remarkably good second, having got it all wrong. So if we have ironed that out then we’ve got every right to think we must have a chance at Aintree.”
Asked if he might be tempted to give Shishkin one more run this season after Aintree, Henderson added: “No because there’s nowhere to go. There’s Punchestown but that’s only two weeks later and Sandown is only two weeks later, so there’s no chance. None of them will run again after Aintree.
“Anything that goes to Aintree will be finished for the season. We’ll be starting with a whole bunch of new horses on May 1st.”
Aintree Racecourse has been gifted the trophy that was originally presented to Mrs Lurline Brotherton, owner of the 1950 Grand National hero Freebooter, by her family.
Crafted in solid gold by Boodles, current sponsor of the Cheltenham Gold Cup, this magnificent creation will serve as the perpetual trophy for the William Hill Handicap Chase (which is registered as the Freebooter Handicap Chase) on Randox Grand National Day (Saturday April 15).
Staged over three miles and a furlong on the Mildmay Course and carrying Premier Handicap status, it is the contest immediately preceding the Randox Grand National itself. Don’t Push It was the winner in 2009 before graduating to Grand National glory 12 months’ later.
Trained in North Yorkshire by Bobby Renton and usually ridden by Jimmy Power, Freebooter was one of the great Aintree horses of the post WW2 era. In addition to his 1950 Grand National success, he was also triumphant over the Grand National fences in the Becher Chase (1953), Champion Chase (1949) and Grand Sefton Chase (1949 and 1950).
Dickon White, Regional Director - North West, The Jockey Club, said: “We are extremely grateful to have been gifted this magnificent trophy by the family of Lurline Brotherton. It is a unique piece of Grand National history.
“Freebooter is already remembered at Aintree with the facility for winning connections named in his honour and it seems only right that the Grand National trophy of this great Aintree performer is put to use as the perpetual trophy for the race run in his honour.”
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