Shiskin (6-1) provided the perfect boost for Nicky Henderson when landing a thrilling win in the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle – the opening race of the 2020 Cheltenham Festival.
The Seven Barrows trainer had to pull star two-mile chaser Altior out of the defence of his crown in Wednesday’s Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase on the eve of the Festival.
The dual Champion Chaser would have been one of Henderson’s leading chances of victory this week, but having been lame on Sunday morning, Henderson had to call it quits this time as he failed to recover.
But in the race Altior first made his name when winning in 2016, stable-mate Shiskin – under Nico De Boinville – just prevailed in a battle to the finish with Gordon Ellott’s Abacadabras (11-4).
It was an eventful race with long-time leader and Willie Mullins’ 9-4 favourite Asterion Forlonge jumping to his right throughout and hampering stable-mate Elixir D’Ainay, who came down on the turn for home.
But as the market leader faded Abacadabras loomed up under dual Grand National-winning rider Davy Russell. But Shiskin quickly went with him.
They crossed the line almost as one but Shiskin had just got back up to win by a head.
The similarly Henderson-trained Chantry House (15-2) was a further 11 lengths adrift in third with Asterion Forlonge fourth.
Henderson was relieved to have a winner following Altior’s injury. He said: “We say it every year, that something will come and bite you and sadly this year it was Altior, so it’s a relief to begin with a winner.
“He was one of our more powerful shots of the week, but all three ran well really (Allart was fifth) – they are three lovely horses.
“I couldn’t see what was happening to Shishkin coming down the hill, he got slightly hampered and Barry (Geraghty) looked in the right place on Chantry House, but Shishkin has got those gears – and he needed them.
“Nico was cool-headed, we know he’s cool round here.”
He added: “Both Shishkin and Chantry House are chasers of the future – both gorgeous horses for the future so we’ve a lot to look forward to. As former point-to-pointers I’d imagine they’ll go chasing, but we’ll see.”
Triple Grand National-winning trainer Elliott added of his runner-up: “He has done everything right there – but he has just ended up being beaten by a better horse on the day.
“We are kind of disappointed he didn’t win, but we have no excuses.”
Put The Kettle On landed a 16-1 shock victory in the Racing Post Arkle Challenge Trophy Npvices’ Chase at Cheltenham.
The Henry De Bromhead-trained mare was always prominent, under Aidan Coleman, alongside Willie Mullins’ Cash Back.
But when that one faded the challengers arrived on the turn for home.
Joseph O’Brien’s Fakir D’oudairies (3-1) threw down the main challenge but as he got close to Put The Kettle On, she jumped the last in front. And under a power-packed drive by Coleman scored by a length and a half.
There was a further 18 lengths back to Rouge Vif (9-1). Only six of the 11 runners finished with 5-2 favourite Notebook coming home last having been in contention turning in.
Winning jockey said: “All the way I absolutely was having some craic – then turning in, I was going to be sick if I got beaten.
“She’s a good mare – I turned off the bend and gave her a kick down to the second last and she absolutely lifted into the middle of it and I thought ‘brilliant, we’re away now’.
“Then I was just praying. If she’d have got beat she’d have been very unlucky, but she’s a very good mare.
“It’s her jumping – it is a joy to behold. She’s just brilliant.”