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5 Feb 2021

The 2021 Arkle – Will Red Hot Favourite Shishkin Cruise to Cheltenham Success?

There aren’t many bankers in horse racing, but Shishkin is about the closest you can get after his last three performances. The Supreme Novices' Hurdle winner is already highly thought of, which only means one thing – a trip to Cheltenham.    

The home of jumps racing is where this horse can go from a top gelding to an iconic one, much like many nags that are currently in the pantheon of greats. As ever, the question is, will he step up to the plate? Here’s why the omens are in his favour.  

Shortened Odds 

Shishkin was already a red-hot favourite to add an Arkle crown to his collection before his last outing at Doncaster. However, the way he cruised to success has forced the bookies to lower the odds even further, with the horse racing betting now placing Shishkin at 8/11 to gallop to victory. There is plenty that can go wrong in horse racing, and there are zero guarantees on the day. Still, the best metric for success is how the bookmakers position the runners because it’s their job to know which one might upset the apple cart. Therefore, the fact that the bookies have doubled down on Shishkin, with only a single run under his belt in 2021, highlights how highly the experts and pundits think of him.  

“A Real Test”  

Those are the words of the jockey who rode him at Doncaster, Nico de Boinville. That's because, although it appeared as if Shishkin was in complete control against the other three runners, he had to work hard for his eight-length win. For one thing, the gallop was very strong as Eldorado Allen tried to make de Boinville’s mount uncomfortable, so he didn’t have it all his own way. Also, the ground was testing due to the heavy rain making it soft underfoot. Plenty of horses could have made excuses, like his Nicky Henderson stablemate Buveur D'Air who was beaten at Haydock on the same day, but Shishkin dug in and gained valuable experience. A run like the one at Doncaster only strengthens his position at the top of the betting since it appears that bad ground and a strong pace won’t deter this horse.   

True Jumping  
Watching a horse jump over fences is a thing of beauty when it’s done properly. Too many either catch the top of it as they go through, reigning in their momentum, while others clear it by a mile and don’t have the right rhythm to attack. Shishkin strikes a perfect balance between preserving energy and clearing enough of a fence to continue unimpeded. That's one of the reasons he’s unbeaten since his switch from hurdles, as well as the fact that de Boinville understands he’s a smarter jumper when pushed rather than being restrained. He did err to his left a little at Doncaster, but there doesn’t seem to be any big concerns from jockey, trainer or owner.   

Willie Mullins-trained Energumene looks like a fantastic horse, so the rivalry will be fascinating to watch. However, at this point, it looks as if Shishkin has everything in his locker to take the 2021 Arkle at the Cheltenham festival.