27 February 2023

Nicholls readying Hitman to take on ‘awesome’ Shishkin in Ryanair

27 February 2023

Paul Nicholls believes Shishkin will be “unbeatable” in the Ryanair Chase if he can replicate his recent Ascot Chase performance.

The nine-year-old made a successful switch up to two miles and five furlongs in Berkshire, inflicting a 16-length defeat on the Nicholls-trained Pic D’Orhy as he returned from a couple of disappointing runs in style.

Nicholls may take on Nicky Henderson’s charge with Hitman at next month’s Cheltenham Festival and while the Ditcheat trainer expects his runner to appreciate a drop back in trip, he concedes he would be up against it with an on-form Shishkin.

“He blatantly didn’t get three miles in the Denman Chase and middle distances suit him well,” Nicholls said of Hitman.

“He started the season really well and then went to Kempton and didn’t jump particularly well, but he ran much better at Newbury in a really fast-run race.

“He’s the sort of horse who could run really well in the Ryanair. He’s always there or thereabouts and he could easily run into a place.

“If Shishkin performs like he did the other day, he’ll be unbeatable. He was awesome at Ascot. I thought Pic D’Orhy would win and Shishkin was brilliant.

“Pic D’Orhy probably ran a career-best if you look at the third and the fourth. If Shishkin is in the same form everything else will be running for places I think.”

Greaneteen finished six lengths in front of Shishkin in the Tingle Creek back in December, when neither could get near the victorious Edwardstone, but Nicholls believes his three-times Grade One victor is perhaps over-priced for the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase.

“He’s been a grand horse, winning all those races at Sandown and two Haldon Gold Cups,” he said.

“He ran at Newbury the other day and was a red-hot favourite and got beat, so he’s gone from 12-1 to 33-1 for the Champion Chase, but actually two years ago he ran exactly the same race at Newbury and he ended up just getting beat at Cheltenham.

“The ground was too fast for him at Newbury, he blew up and then stayed on strongly.

“It would be no surprise to me if he ran really well and finished third or fourth. I’m not saying he’s going to win a Champion Chase, but he’s well capable of running a really tidy race.”

Stage Star has multiple options at this stage, with both the three-mile Brown Advisory and two-and-half-mile Turners Novices’ Chase on the radar.

He won over the shorter trip at Cheltenham on Trials Day last month and conditions will be key to his target.

Nicholls said: “He’s been a grand horse. He was a Grade One winner over hurdles, he won first time up over fences at Warwick and I just think he found the ground very fast at Newbury next time.

“We went to Plumpton after Christmas and he won well and then he went to Cheltenham and won on Trials Day.

“He’s in the Turners and the Brown Advisory. We’ll just see what the ground does, but he’ll run in one or the other. If the ground was on the good side I wouldn’t be afraid to go for the Brown Advisory as I think he’ll get three miles, but if it’s on the slower side we can run in the Turners.

“You can run really well and finish third or fourth at Cheltenham, but he’s a progressive horse.”

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