THE non-appearance of Shishkin (Nicky Henderson/Nico de Boinville) in the Tingle Creek and subsequent reports of a bad scope set plenty of tongues wagging, with many suggesting he would either swerve Kempton or turn up badly short of practice.
Knowledgeable paddock experts reported that the Arkle winner was carrying condition before this belated return, and he certainly came off the bridle before main rival Greaneteen (Paul Nicholls/Bryony Frost). But the son of Sholokhov found plenty when coming under a drive, and the 4/9 favourite was ultimately very impressive in pulling clear from the penultimate fence to record a 10-length success.
It’s easy enough to knock the Desert Orchid form, especially as Henderson’s decision to miss Sandown meant that he was receiving weight from the runner-up, rather than carrying a penalty himself. But while many roll their eyes at Henderson’s utterances, there is little doubt that he is honest in his assessment of his stars, and the negative talk about Shishkin was not a diversion.
Shishkin was briefly left flat-footed when the race began in earnest, but the way he delivered off the bridle when short of peak condition was very impressive.
Like Altior, he tends to be praised for his jumping, but is safe rather than fast at his fences, and it’s his finishing kick, which is his most impressive attribute, just as it was for his former stable companion, and the winning margin was impressive given the pace picked up markedly only in the home straight.
His potential weakness is whether he can hold his place in a big field, but the likelihood of big fields in his division is slim, and he will continue to be hard to beat, even against Energumene and Chacun Pour Soi, unless that pair can be utilised in a pincer movement to expose his potential vulnerability.
Greaneteen lost little in defeat against a superior rival, and neither track nor ground would have been in his favour. He may have his limitations, but has yet to reach his eighth birthday, and has a pair of Grade 1 wins to his name in open company.
They are unlikely to be his limit at that level, even if he has to wait until Sandown in April for his next realistic shot.Sky Pirate is a top-class handicapper better suited by the typical set-up of such races than a tactical affair such as this was, and he will be better back in a big field.
It would be folly to dismiss Before Midnight despite this 20-length defeat. He jumped boldly in front before the injection of pace in the straight found him out, and he lost a lot of momentum from a relatively minor error at the penultimate fence. He remains an ideal candidate for the Grand Annual back amongst handicappers.
ALAN King has been missing a potential star in the two-mile division for a while, but he has a solid Arkle candidate in the shape of Edwardstone (Tom Cannon), who built on his Henry VIII win at Sandown by defying a penalty in the Grade 2 Wayward Lad Novices’ Chase.
This was nowhere near as competitive on paper, but the 8/15 market leader was meeting Do Your Job (Michael Scudamore/Richard Patrick) – a faller in the Sandown contest when travelling well – on 5lb worse terms, so it was not without academic interest, and in beating that rival by 10 lengths in a time only half a second slower than the Desert Orchid, he proved his ability to back up that performance, for all he wasn’t require to improve.
This is an issue that many race-watchers fail to grasp. That a horse is able to repeat the level of form of their best effort doesn’t mean we have learned nothing, as the ability to repeat high-class form is something which eludes most horses, including some with great raw talent.
There is no doubt in my mind that Edwardstone enhanced his Arkle claims here, and his proven ability to come from off the pace is a positive given so many in the novice division at the minimum trip set their stalls out by dominating from the front.
Edwardstone is not as exciting as Ferny Hollow, for example, but he has a depth of valuable experience under his belt, and is the type to slip under the radar for just that reason.