Can Shishkin triumph in the Gold Cup? Dan Skelton and Paul Nicholls assess Denman Chase winner's Cheltenham claim

Shishkin: bounced back at Newbury
Shishkin: bounced back at NewburyCredit: Alan Crowhurst

As an 8-11 shot Shishkin was meant to win the Betfair Denman Chase and no sooner had he crossed the line than talk turned to whether he could follow up in the Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup next month.

As a two-time festival winner with a peak Racing Post Rating of 179, Shishkin's Gold Cup credentials are pretty solid. The problem is, in last year's winner Galopin Des Champs he faces another dual festival winner with an even higher peak rating of 184.

Dan Skelton, trainer of the Denman Chase third Protektorat, has his doubts he can repel Willie Mullins' star and take chasing's greatest prize.

"I could see him winning a Gold Cup if Galopin Des Champs wasn't there," he said. "But Galopin Des Champs, I'm afraid, is just a little bit ahead of everybody at the moment. That doesn't mean he can't beat him on the day, but going into the race Shishkin will not be favourite, although he will obviously be a proper contender."

Paul Nicholls knows a thing or two about winning a Gold Cup having done so four times with See More Business in 1999, Kauto Star in 2007 and 2009 either side of his triumph with the horse after whom Saturday's Grade 2 was named.

Shishkin's run only made him more bullish about the chance of his own challenger Bravemansgame. He said: "I don't think he's that far in front of Bravemansgame, I don't think there's an inch between them – there wouldn't have been in the King George.

"It would have been an interesting race, no-one will know the result of that. We're going in with Bravemansgame thinking we've got a shout.

Shishkin: back to winning ways at Newbury
Shishkin pulls away from Hitman in the Betfair Denman ChaseCredit: Alan Crowhurst (Getty Images)

"We've all got a lot to do to beat last year's winner. It's going to be hard, but I really do think he'll run a big race. I'm not going to say we'll beat Galopin Des Champs but he'll run really well and it's a race, so anything can happen."

Nicholls believes there is more to come from Bravemansgame, who was a seven-length second in the Gold Cup last year. He added: "He ran a solid race at Kempton and I almost made a pig's ear of training him in the autumn, nothing worked out right with the ground and the weather.

"He went to Wetherby on heavy ground, then it was heavy at Haydock but we went because Bryan [Drew, owner] was keen to go. He just didn't have the prep I'd have really liked before Kempton. He's in good shape now and he'll have the right prep between now and Cheltenham."

Reflecting on his Denman Chase runner-up Hitman, Nicholls added: "I'm thrilled with him and we'll go straight to the Ryanair now. He was a little out of form last year and he needed the run the other day. My sole aim has been to have him at his best for the Ryanair and we have a month now to finish that off.

"He ran a really good race and I'm of the opinion three miles is far enough for him, he looked dangerous two out and probably got outstayed."

Protektorat finished third after making the most of the running and Skelton said: "He's run really well and stayed all the way to the line. He was probably a little keen early on, but that's his way nowadays. 

"Once he dropped the bridle there were no excuses and it's as good as I've seen him jump, he's just coming up a little short and you can't knock him. We need to have a think about what we do next."

Read these next:

Nicky Henderson 'relieved' as Shishkin leaves turbulent season firmly behind with gutsy display in Denman Chase 

'He felt like a proper machine' - Edwardstone cut to 8-1 for the Champion Chase after impressive return to winning ways in Game Spirit 

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Stuart RileyDeputy news editor

Published on 10 February 2024inReports

Last updated 08:19, 11 February 2024