Watch Ruby and Lydia's Day Three wrap
Nicky Henderson was left mulling over whether he made the right decision to run Shishkin in the Ryanair Chase rather than the Cheltenham Gold Cup after he stayed on to finish second to Envoi Allen.
And as Britain's leading Festival trainer offered his assessment, the meeting's successful jockey, Ruby Walsh, gave his, suggesting that Shishkin was "having a laugh" and would benefit from headgear.
"Put a pair of blinkers on him," Walsh said in his Racing TV Road To Cheltenham wrap with Lydia Hislop. "He didn't want to line up, he didn't want to go forward, but he still kept getting involved. I'd put a pair of blinkers on him.
"Nico (de Boinville) was right, he was curling up [at the start]. If he wasn't right, he couldn't have made those mistakes and run the way he did through the race and still finish second. He is having a laugh - I think he's swinging the leg."
Bidding for a third Festival success, the former Supreme and Arkle winner was odds-on for last season’s Queen Mother Champion Chase but never travelled on soft ground and was pulled up early by Nico de Boinville.
💔 A costly error from Shishkin...#CheltenhamFestival pic.twitter.com/wgp7SDr4s2— Racing TV (@RacingTV) March 16, 2023
Subsequently diagnosed with a rare bone condition, he was brought back slowly and after finishing 15 lengths second to Edwardstone in the Tingle Creek at Sandown, he was stepped up in trip and duly took the Ascot Chase by 16 lengths.
However, over the same two miles and five furlongs of the Ryanair, he did not quite look himself, jumping left on occasions and making an error at a crucial stage which briefly halted momentum.
Though staying on well after the last, he was never catching Envoi Allen, whose two-and three-quarter-length success was a third at the Festival after victories in the 2019 Champion Bumper and in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle a year later.
Henderson said: “He wasn’t really travelling like we hoped he would. Early on, he wasn’t looking that happy about it, but he’s done bloody well to finish where he has.
WATCH A FULL REPLAY OF THE RACE AND READ MORE
“Maybe I should have listened to those people who said we should have gone three and a quarter (mile, in the Gold Cup) – it looked as if that’s what he wanted.”
Asked to put his finger on why Shishkin ran so inconsistently, Henderson added: “I don’t know, it’s unlike him to go left like that – and he was going markedly left. He ran at Ascot last time and if you go left round Ascot, you finish up in Windsor Castle and that’s that!
“He schooled on Monday and you’ve never seen a horse jump five fences straighter and quicker, so we’ll have to take him apart and tighten a few nuts and bolts.
“He made one bad mistake coming down the hill, but look at how well he’s finished. I was a bit worried over the first two fences because he looked outpaced again, but he got back there – he’s determined if nothing else.
“Envoi Allen was going to be the next coming when he was young and they’ve done very well, they’ve got him back to his very best.
“You could say it came too soon after Ascot for us, it was a bit of a rush but I certainly want to run him in four weeks’ time over three miles at Aintree – that’s the obvious thing to do.”
De Boinville said Shishkin never gave him the same encouragement as he had felt when scoring so impressively at Ascot.
“It never really went right from when the tapes went up. Even down at the start he was curling up on me a bit and sitting back on his haunches a bit,” said the jockey.
“Over the first two fences he wasn’t taking me anywhere, whereas at Ascot I was able to travel and jump and dictate where I wanted to be. This time I was pushed here there and everywhere.
“He was hanging a bit left and wasn’t the same horse that we saw at Ascot, but we know what he can do, so we’ll get him home and get him absolutely spot-on, and I’m sure he’ll be going three miles at Aintree.
“Over the first two fences it did feel a bit like last year and I was thinking, ‘Oh God’, but all credit to the horse – he’s very genuine, he made an error down the hill and has managed to get back for second when he had every right to be pulled up or tailed off.
A chance to win £50,000 with Paddy's Pick 5
Lydia Hislop's top tips for day four
✍ GOLD CUP RUNNER-BY-RUNNER GUIDE
How To Bet £20 on Gold Cup Day
Trends and a super stat for every race
The Irish Angle: Johnny Ward's top tips
Tote Placepot picks for Friday
“We know what he can do on his good days and there’ll be plenty more good days to come.”
Select any odd to add a bet