THE star performance last weekend was undoubtedly Shishkin returning to the level of his performances when winning the Supreme Novices and the Arkle at previous Cheltenham Festivals

While his main market rival Fakir D’Oudaries disappointed, Pic D’Orhy still gave him a stern test but he answered every call, promoting differences of opinions for him to be added to the Champion Chase, take the logical option in the Ryanair, or be stepped up from two miles and five furlongs to three and a quarter against tougher opposition in the Gold Cup just three weeks on from this run.

Nicky Henderson is criticised in some parts as too conservative a trainer but it is hard to see many of the current top trainers being anymore bold in not opting for the Ryanair. Had Shishkin been clear of his physical problems and contested a King George or a three-mile chase, you could understand a Gold Cup bid being more likely.

His pedigree does offer optimism as a son of Sholokhov, sire of Gold Cup winner Don Cossack, and from a Roselier female line that has the three-mile-and-five-furlong Bet365 Gold Cup winner Hennessy as well as Voler La Vedette close up.

On the demands of a top chaser, look back to the Gold Cup betting just after the 2020 running, it was headed by Al Boum Photo, from Santini, Minella Indo, Champ, Lostintranslation, Samcro, Allho, Topofthegame. Their subsequent racing careers demonstrate how hard it is to keep a horse at the top over a few years.

Yes, there’s only one Gold Cup but do you risk sacrificing a horse’s career if there are doubts.

Then again, who would have expected the early days of Desert Orchid to go down in history as a Gold Cup winner.

The debate will continue - does the Ryanair ruin Gold Cup competition or is it a case of running a horse over the distance where he can most excel? Allaho v Shishkin could have been the clash of the meeting.

Vautour, Cue Card and Allaho were the most exciting Ryanair winners but Vautour’s King George defeat would suggest the Gold Cup would have been beyond him and what would have been gained by a struggling third place finish?

Of course if we wait to further test his stamina, Shishkin will be 10 next year and no 10-year-old has won since Cool Dawn in 1998, on a chasing scene more dominated by seven and eight-year-olds.

At Gowran on Saturday, Janidil also entered the Ryanair picture with an eye-catching win over stable companion Haut En Coleurs. The latter had seemed set to win the Grade 2 Horse & Jockey Chase previously from Fakir D’Oudaries before he departed at the last.

Janidil had looked more part of the Mullins B team, his two Cheltenham runs being a fifth in the Albert Bartlett and a second in the Ryanair last year. Based on the handicap entries revealed this week, Haut En Coleurs is also part of the Mullins B team. The Coral Hurdle, the Plate Handicap Chase as well as the Stayers Hurdle are his entries so Janidil’s best 7/1 for the Ryanair ranks him below stable companion Blue Lord.

Mares Hurdle

Well fancied for the Festival Mares’ Hurdle after her win in the Grade 1 Mares Novices Hurdle at Fairyhouse last season, the Willie Mullins-trained Brandy Love made her seasonal debut at Punchestown on Wednesday. Giving 9lb to the Cheltenham second from last year, Queen’s Brook, she could only manage third, four and a half lengths behind the winner after flattening the last.

On the bare form, she would have to improve a lot on her first Festival visit to get on terms with the likes of Honeysuckle, Marie’s Rock and Epatante. She was pushed out to 8/1 along with her stable companion Echoes In Rain.

Festival Handicaps

The Festival handicap entries were revealed this week with a predictable reduction in entries from 654 in 2022 to 585 this year. Brandy Love also features among the entries in the Coral Cup

Gordon Elliott, who won last year’s Coral Cup and three of the last five Pertemps Hurdles, has a wide scattering of entries with novice American Mike, who runs to get qualified today, in the Coral and the Martin Pipe while two-mile novice chaser, and recent Grade 2 Gowran hurdle winner Fil Dor is entered in no less than six races from the Grade 1 novice chases the Arkle and Turners, to the Festival Plate and the three-mile-and-two-furlong Kim Muir as well as the Coral and County Hurdles.

Third Wind last year ended a run of six Irish-trained winners of the Pertemps, and the 11 Irish entries this year are headed in the betting by the Charles Byrnes-trained Shoot First and Gavin Cromwell’s Perceval Legallois in the McManus colours.

High class novices Hunters Yarn and Il Etait Temps are entered in the County Hurdle after Willie Mullins won it with a similar horse in State Man last year. The 37 Irish entries also include Sharjah, Zanahyir and Pied Piper.