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Ground woe for Shishkin and Henderson at Cheltenham

Nicky Henderson was in no doubt the ground was to blame for Shishkin’s disappointing run in the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase at the Cheltenham.

Shishkin arrived at Prestbury Park unbeaten in seven starts over fences and was sent off the 5-6 favourite to once again triumph over Energumene, after the pair produced an epic battle at Ascot in January.

However, Henderson’s runner never appeared to be travelling in the two-mile feature, with Nico de Boinville pulling him up after the eighth fence.

Heavy rain on top of overnight watering saw the ground switch from good, good to soft in places in the morning to soft by the time racing got under way, and to heavy after the Champion Chase – a factor Henderson thought proved crucial.

He said: “The plan was to pop out and be up there over the first and settle in wherever.

“It was different tactics from Energumene, but we couldn’t get out of the ground going to the first fence, let alone anything else.

“Nico was dead right to pull him up. There was no point in subjecting him to any more of that.

“You either do or you don’t (handle this ground), it’s as simple as that – and when it’s like this, you’re into the real extremes.

Nico de Boinville returns after Shishkin's disappointment
Nico de Boinville returns after Shishkin’s disappointment (Ashley Iveson/PA)

“You never know until you run them what they can cope with, but I could honestly tell going to the first fence he wasn’t happy because I knew where he wanted to line up, but he couldn’t get there.

“Yes they went quick, but he can go quick too. He just can’t get out of that ground.

“We’ve always thought this wasn’t his game, but what do you do? You’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t.

“If I take him out I know what happens, and if I run him I probably knew what was going to happen as well.”

Henderson understood why Cheltenham clerk of the course Jon Pullin felt the need to water on Tuesday evening and raised the possibility of Shishkin seeking consolation at Aintree next month in the Melling Chase.

He added: “I can understand why they watered. I know the boys (jockeys) and everybody were saying it was getting quick last night and we don’t want fast ground here.

“I understand their predicament. He (Pullin) has got loads of forecasts that said this wasn’t going to happen.

“I’m not blaming them. It was going to be soft anyway with this rain. I walked round on Sunday and it would have been soft after this rain with or without watering.

“The horse seems to be perfectly OK. Nico pulled him up in good time. Most of these horses won’t go to Aintree, but there’s nothing to say that he couldn’t go there and run over two and a half miles.

“That performance today is completely ground related. Full stop.”

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