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Shishkin ready for a run before Cheltenham after Kempton romp | Horses race

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Shishkin’s delayed return to action turned out to be worth the wait here on Monday as last season’s Arkle Trophy winner maintained his unbeaten record in races over jumps with a 10-length loss. against Greaneteen – a first-year winner himself earlier this month – in the second-year Desert Orchid Hunt.

Shishkin was gaining weight from his two main rivals in a four-person peloton and also needed to be pushed for a second or two by Nico de Boinville, his jockey, around the house. Once he got up to speed, however, Shishkin pulled away from his opponents in a few strides and quickly took full control.

Bookies took the opportunity to reduce Shishkin’s chances for the Queen Mother’s champion hunt in March and seven-year-old Nicky Henderson is now on the line for the two-mile hunting championship with multiple companies, with Coral one of the few still against at 5-4. Energumene, Ireland’s top prospect for what promises to be a memorable one-on-one in the spring, is priced the highest at 5-2 and he’s 11-1 without both.

“I think there is a little relief but it’s more than that because I’m really, really delighted with him,” said Henderson. “We weren’t really there, but we had to go out and when I looked at the floor yesterday, I was like, ‘Aren’t we going to wait for Clarence House? [in January]’, so I was nervous.

“He was in a rough spot for three weeks which is why he didn’t run in Tingle Creek and his tracheal wash confirmed that. He didn’t run into Tingle Creek because he got it all wrong and was as flat as a pancake, then 10 days later his trachea wash was horrible.

“The path he crossed [the] fencing is amazing, sometimes you don’t even think he’s left the ground because he’s right on the other side and gone.

Henderson would rather do Shishkin another run before his Festival run, although he believes he now has two flawed options to choose from.

“He had a good shot and I would like to have another run before Cheltenham,” he said. “The problem is, you have the Clarence House coming quickly after that, while the Game Spirit [at Newbury in February] is close enough to the Festival and you don’t have a lot of in-between, but we’ll find something for it.

The flagship event of the day at the Leopardstown Christmas Festival was a two-mile Level 1 chase and stadium, but its value as a scorer for the Champion Chase waned when Everyone For Self, the likely favorite, was scratched a few hours before the race due to a hamstring problem.

In his absence, Envoy Allen recorded their first Grade One success for Henry of Bromhead and Rachael Blackmore following his stint from Gordon Elliott’s stable in early March. The seven-year-old had to dig deep to overcome the lingering challenge of Battleoverdoyen, but ultimately crossed the line almost eight lengths ahead.

“We got a little scared on the turn but he put his head down and galloped towards the line,” said Blackmore. “I think Henry was right to make him back down [in trip], obviously with Everyone being out it changed the dynamics of the race [but] he felt good today.

At Chepstow, where the Welsh Grand National took place in front of empty stands for the second year in a row, it was left to Sam Thomas to provide the post-race emotion after Iwilldoit stood firm to offer the coach the biggest victory of his career.

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“I can’t believe how emotional I am,” Thomas said. “I’m a little overwhelmed by the whole experience, if I’m being honest. It’s great to keep him in Wales. I am a proud Welshman and it hasn’t really come off.

“It’s very weird to be here in an empty grandstand with no crowds. It doesn’t seem fair, really. I enjoyed every minute of this race, but my family should be there, the rest of the owners should be there, and it really is a very sad day for the race. Forty minutes later, in Bristol, there is a stadium full of people watching rugby. It’s crazy.

Native River, winner of the 2018 Cheltenham Gold Cup and winner of the Welsh National five years ago, has retired after being stopped in Monday’s race.

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