Cheltenham Festival: The Ultimate Guide - 2021-03-05


Foot-perfect Shishkin can jump his rivals into submission


Nick Watts

Allmankind He had his limitations over hurdles but has taken to fences surprisingly well and has notched three wins at two of Britain’s stiffest fencing challenges – Sandown and Warwick – including at Grade 1 and Grade 2 level. An easy victory over possible rival Sky Pirate in the Kingmaker last time out will have teed him up perfectly for this. But he will have to get everything right here to succeed – he made a mistake two out last time – and suspicion remains he will set this up perfectly for Shishkin with his all-out front-running style. Captain Guinness A useful type, and a Punchestown chase winner in December. However, he has to overcome a fall on his latest start at Leopardstown (in contention but probably held) and only the great Moscow Flyer has managed to do that in the recent past. Before his tumble, he was put in his place by Energumene at Naas in January when on the receiving end of an eight-and-a-half-length defeat, so work to do on several counts here if he is to emerge in front. Darver Star He excelled at this meeting last season when placed in the Champion Hurdle, and also had good placed form with the likes of Honeysuckle and Envoi Allen over hurdles. He hasn’t quite hit the same heights over fences with just one win from four chase starts – and has been put in his place the last twice by Franco De Port and then Energumene. He will need to show dramatic improvement if he is to figure here but, bearing in mind what he did last season, it’s always possible he could overachieve again and grab a place. Eldorado Allen A Grade 2 winner at Cheltenham in November when helped by the fall of Gumball he has had his limitations exposed since then and has been well beaten behind Allmankind and Shishkin on his last two starts. Based on that he has little chance and a chase rating some 15lb below Shishkin highlights that fact. Energumene Ran only once over hurdles – a win in March 2020 at Gowran Park – before going chasing this season, where he has made a deep impression with three wide-margin wins. Like Shishkin, he stays much further than two miles (previous point winner and November’s Gowran Park win over 2m4f) but tactics will be interesting here. He likes to go forward, but then so does Allmankind, and he wouldn’t want to get racing too far out for Shishkin to then sit in and pick up the pieces. He’s quite clearly the pick of the Irish contingent, and is another sound jumper, but this will be by far the hardest task he has faced in his six-race career. Franco De Port No show at this meeting last season when well fancied for the Coral Cup and that is slightly off-putting, as is his easy defeat at the hands of Energumene in a Leopardstown Grade 1 last time out. He was beaten ten lengths that day and it is hard to see how he is going to make that up with his stablemate – and that’s not even taking Shishkin into account. An admirable type who has done well to notch a Grade 1 already this term, but needs to find improvement to take this. Fusil Raffles Grade 1-winning novice hurdler who went off the boil last spring and made no impression behind Epatante in the Champion Hurdle. He has generally done well since going chasing this season – aside from a poor run at Cheltenham’s November meeting when unsuited by the soft ground – and won last time out in December albeit over half a mile further. No run since then and the way he enjoyed being stepped up in trip last time out suggests he will be staying over 2m4f rather than dropping back in trip for this race. In the event he does take his chance, he could well find things happening a bit too quickly and doesn’t hold huge appeal. Ga Law He has been a revelation over fences this season and scored in Grade 2 company at Wincanton in November. His three chase wins, however, were all achieved over longer trips and he seemed to get found out behind Allmankind at Sandown in December when only third over the minimum trip. He was upped to 2m4½f on his last start when second in the Grade 2 Pendil Novices’ Chase at Kempton. He has had a great season but is likely to fall short if coming here. Shishkin Last season’s Supreme winner hasn’t put a foot wrong in three starts since going chasing – never looking in the slightest danger each time to win at Kempton (twice) and Doncaster. His jumping has been exemplary, and when he has got in close he’s been clever, so the likely frenetic pace of this race should not faze him. He’s a strong stayer at two miles (won the Sidney Banks over further last season as a hurdler) – reminiscent of previous Henderson-trained Arkle winners such as Simonsig and Altior – and is the one they all have to beat granted a clear round. Sky Pirate It’s hard to believe that he was running in the Kim Muir (finished seventh) in 2019 and now could conceivably take his chance in this race. Dropping right down in trip has brought about big improvement with consecutive wins at Cheltenham and Warwick followed by a second in the Kingmaker to Allmankind. He wouldn’t have been in love with the ground that day so it’s possible he can reverse that form, but he probably doesn’t have enough to trouble the big two. VERDICT It’s Shishkin all the way. Last season’s Supreme winner has looked nigh on invincible since going chasing and his jumping has been clever and without blemish. Energumene has also impressed in recording three chase wins this season, but the presence of Allmankind maybe makes things a bit harder for him, as does the presence of Shishkin. It is hard to see anything at big prices getting involved, although Darver Star did excel himself at this meeting last season so it wouldn’t be a total shock if he did so again. 1 Shishkin 2 Energumene 3 Darver Star



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