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    Shishkin's flaws and quirks only heightened his appeal
Shishkin's flaws and quirks only heightened his appeal
Shishkin. Source: Timeform

Shishkin's flaws and quirks only heightened his appeal

On Sunday, we tragically lost an exceptionally gifted and delightfully eccentric pursuer who had captured our attention in recent times due to their unique abilities. The cause of their untimely demise was an unfortunate incident that occurred in a stable.

On Sunday evening, a deep sense of sorrow permeated through the racing community on social media upon learning the news that Shishkin, a remarkably talented and charming racehorse, had passed away. The unfortunate circumstances involved a hind leg fracture that occurred when he became trapped in his enclosure at Nicky Henderson's stable in Lambourn.

Shishkin. Source: Horse & Hound
Shishkin. Source: Horse & Hound

Early Success

Shishkin, a thoroughbred racehorse of Irish origin, was trained in Britain and participated in National Hunt races. He achieved notable success, winning 14 out of 21 races, including six Grade 1 victories. His most impressive performance is often considered to be his triumph over Energumene in the Clarence House Chase. Shishkin was trained by Nicky Henderson and ridden by jockey Nico de Boinville.

This marked a profoundly unfortunate conclusion to a celebrated career, characterised by the horse's captivating imperfections and quirks that only served to enhance his appeal.

In 2018, Shishkin participated in two point-to-point races before transitioning to racing under rules. In March 2019, he achieved a win in a bumper race at Kempton. During his first two-and-a-half seasons on the racetrack, except for a stumble during his debut in December 2019, Shishkin remained unbeatable. He amassed an impressive winning streak spanning ten races, which included notable victories in Grade One races over both hurdles and fences at the prestigious Cheltenham Festival. During the 2019/20 season, he competed as a novice hurdler, experiencing a fall during his debut at Newbury. However, he redeemed himself by securing a maiden win a month later. Following an impressive 11-length victory in the Sidney Banks Memorial Novices' Hurdle, he emerged as the favourite for the Supreme Novices' Hurdle at Cheltenham. Although his odds shifted unfavourably before the Festival, Shishkin managed to overcome difficulties during the race and clinched a photo-finish victory against Abacadabras.

For the 2020/21 season, Shishkin switched to fences and competed in novice chase events. He achieved three comfortable victories leading up to the Cheltenham Festival, including wins in the Wayward Lad and Lightning Novices' Chase. Entering the Arkle Trophy at Cheltenham as the favoured contender, he delivered an impressive triumph with a 12-length lead. He continued his successful streak with a fifth win of the season in the Maghull Novices' Chase at Aintree.

Notably, his gripping one-length triumph over Energumene in the Clarence House Chase at Ascot in January 2022 will undoubtedly be remembered as one of the greatest races of all time, ensuring its enduring presence in the memories of racing enthusiasts.

Both horses arrived at Ascot with undefeated records in jumping races. Despite Shishkin being the slight favourite, Energumene was considered the frontrunner as he maintained a lead of about two lengths after clearing the final obstacle. The final 15 seconds of the race were incredibly captivating and memorable, as Shishkin fought his way back and overtook Energumene just a few strides before the finish line. This moment defined Shishkin's career, but it also marked a turning point. The intense effort required to catch up with such a skilled opponent seemed to have taken a toll on Shishkin, as he showed reluctance to revisit that level of exertion. In his subsequent race, the Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham, he was once again favoured to win but displayed a lack of enthusiasm in his performance. He was eventually pulled out of the race before jumping the eighth fence.

Shishkin had an astonishing start to his racing career, winning 11 out of his first 12 races. His vulnerability in later races only seemed to increase his popularity among racing fans. Despite experiencing occasional setbacks, he still demonstrated his potential with impressive victories at Ascot and Aintree in the spring of 2023. Nevertheless, he was the disappointed favourite in the Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham, although he managed to finish within three lengths of the winner after making a significant mistake three fences from the end.

Shishkin. Source: ITVX
Shishkin. Source: ITVX

Behavioural issues

Shishkin's peculiar behaviour resurfaced in November 2023 when he refused to race and planted himself at the start of the 1965 Chase at Ascot. However, a month later, he participated in the King George VI Chase at Kempton without hesitation. It appeared that he was on track to achieve the biggest triumph of his career, but unfortunately, he stumbled and unseated his jockey, Nico de Boinville, after jumping the second-to-last fence.

Shishkin's 2023/24 season was scheduled to kick off with the 1965 Chase at Ascot. Yet, the horse refused to race after planting himself at the starting line. In the subsequent King George VI Chase, Shishkin was leading by a length and approaching the second-to-last fence when he stumbled, causing the jockey de Boinville to be unseated. Despite these setbacks, Shishkin managed to secure a victory in the Denman Chase, which motivated Henderson to aim for the Cheltenham Gold Cup. But, due to an unsatisfactory scope, Shishkin and several other horses trained by Henderson were withdrawn from their Festival races. Shishkin concluded his racing career with a fourth-place finish in the Aintree Bowl on April 11, 2024. Unfortunately, on April 28, 2024, Henderson announced the death of Shishkin, who had fractured his hind leg after getting stuck in his box.

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