It has been quite a while – 261 days to be precise – and there have been several false dawns along the way, but the great hope of British jump racing is finally back on a track. Shishkin, unbeaten in nine completed starts over jumps and the favourite for the Queen Mother Champion Chase before his novice season was in the book, will go to post at around 2.25pm this afternoon to line up for the Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton Park.
And while there were some who felt that Nicky Henderson was running away from a proper test for Shishkin when he was ruled out of the Tingle Creek earlier this month, the seven-year-old will be up against a dual Grade One winner in Greaneteen – the horse that landed the Tingle Creek in his absence – with the Grand Annual winner from last year’s Cheltenham Festival, Sky Pirate, in the mix as well.
Shishkin gets 3lb from Greaneteen and 1lb from Sky Pirate, which according to the estimable Timeform operation’s ratings puts him a stone clear of the former and no less than 19lb in front of the latter. Even if he is a little rusty around the edges after eight months out, that should be enough to ensure that he extends his current winning sequence to nine races (unbroken after the only blip on his record, a fall on his debut over hurdles).
But Henderson, of course, has mixed memories of today’s race, having won it with the brilliant two-milers Sprinter Sacre and Altior but also seen both horses beaten when favourite for it too, including the chilly afternoon when Sprinter Sacre’s unbeaten streak over fences was snapped at 10 races in 2013.
Having lost My Drogo, one of our brightest novice chasing talents, for the season already today, British jumping could really do with an impressive success from Shishkin, whose Arkle Trophy win in March put the home team 2-1 up after three Festival races, before a green avalanche flattened them on the way to a 23-5 pummelling by the visitors.
The big betting race of the day is the Welsh National at Chepstow, where last year’s winner, Secret Reprieve, is just about clinging on to favouritism ahead of Sam Thomas’s Iwilldoit.
For the second year running, the highlight of the Welsh jumps season has been forced behind closed doors by Covid, so there will be no Welsh voices to hail a third home-trained winner in a row, following a 54 year gap until Potters Corner – who is also in today’s field – won in 2019.
The going at Chepstow is soft after 19mm of rain on Christmas Day, another 4mm on Sunday and then more this morning, although that is expected to clear as the day goes on.
Tips for all the races on the ITV schedule are here, while the action gets underway at 12.30 in south Wales and 12.45 in south-west London.