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Shishkin to spearhead ‘solid’ Aintree squad for Henderson

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Shishkin ridden by Nico de Boinville celebrate winning the Sporting Life Arkle Challenge Trophy

Shishkin is set to lead Nicky Henderson’s squad into battle at next week’s Randox Grand National Festival at Aintree.

The Seven Barrows handler assembled what he views as a “pretty solid team” for the three-day meeting, which did not take place last season because of the coronavirus outbreak.

Henderson admits Aintree will have a very different look to it this year without the usual crowds, but he is nevertheless looking forward to making the trip to Merseyside.

He said: “We’ve had great days at Aintree. It’s always been tremendous fun and everyone is incredibly hospitable.

“The atmosphere is great – it’s a bit more relaxed than Cheltenham.

“It’s not going to be the same as normal years, obviously – but it’s enjoyable and I think we’ve got a pretty solid team.”

The undoubted star of the show as far as Henderson is concerned is Shishkin, who extended his unbeaten record over fences to four with a runaway success in the Arkle Trophy at Cheltenham last month.

The seven-year-old will bid to round off his flawless campaign with another Grade One win in the Doom Bar Maghull Novices’ Chase on Saturday week.

“He was very good at Cheltenham. I think it was a relief as much as anything,” Henderson added.

“He was very professional. He has a different jumping technique to some horses – he’s very quick and gets from A to B without you noticing he’s done it.

“This is the obvious place to come. I don’t see there’s any reason to go any further than two miles at the moment as he is a sharp horse.

“He won’t go to Punchestown. Shishkin would finish his season here, I hope.”

Henderson’s pair of Chantry House and Fusil Raffles finished first and second respectively in the Marsh Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham.

However, they are set to be split at Aintree, with Fusil Raffles sticking to two and a half miles in Thursday’s Sss Super Alloys Manifesto Novices’ Chase and Chantry House stepping up to three miles for the Betway Mildmay Novices’ Chase the following afternoon.

Henderson hopes two of Ireland’s star novice chases, Monkfish and Envoi Allen, will be staying at home, adding: “We’ve read that Monkfish and Envoi Allen are going to take each other on at Punchestown, unless it’s an April Fool!

“I hope they do and we can all go round amongst ourselves at Aintree.”

The multiple champion trainer is planning to step Mister Fisher up in distance for the opening afternoon’s Betway Bowl.

The son of Jeremy, who was pulled up in the Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham, is likely to have plenty on his plate, however.

Henderson said: “We’ve been dying to try him over three miles – it’s always looked exactly what he wanted.

“There’s talk of Tiger Roll running and I gather A Plus Tard may possibly come, so there’s going to be a lot of Irish competition still, although I think we’re all rather hoping a lot of them will stay at home for Punchestown and not travel again!

“It will be a good race, but I think three miles on good ground at Aintree will suit Mister Fisher and I’m keen to run him.”

On the same day, Buveur D’Air will bid for a second win in the Betway Aintree Hurdle.

With connections deciding against bidding for a third Champion Hurdle success at Cheltenham, the 10-year-old will be running for only the second time since suffering a freak hoof injury in the 2019 Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle.

He finished second on his return from over a year off the track at Haydock in January.

“We kept him out of Cheltenham and I think an extra half a mile will help him,” said his trainer.

“He wouldn’t want fast ground, but he’s in very good form and schooled this morning and was as electric as ever.”

Henderson confirmed Heross Du Seuil an intended runner in the Doom Bar Anniversary 4-Y-O Juvenile Hurdle on the opening day, while plans are more fluid for the exciting Dusart, who has not been seen since his hurdling debut at Newbury in November.

Henderson said: “Dusart was very impressive at Newbury. He then had a freak accident and has been missing since. I actually didn’t think we’d get him back at all this season.

“He’s a smart horse, I hope. He could run in the Top Novices’ Hurdle over two miles, the Mersey Novices’ Hurdle over two and a half, or he might just wait for Ayr.

“Ronnie (Bartlett, owner) is coming to see him work on Friday and we’ll decide after that.

“Pipesmoker will almost certainly go for the two-and-a-half-mile race.”

One horse unlikely to be part of the Henderson’s Aintree battalion is Altior.

Having disappointingly missed the Cheltenham Festival for the second year in succession, the 11-year-old looks set to instead head for the Celebration Chase at Sandown, which he has already won three times

“He will do a bit of work this weekend, but it will be his first since the dirty scope that meant he missed Cheltenham,” said Henderson.

“I’m wouldn’t rule Aintree out, but I think it’s more likely he’ll wait for the Celebration.”

Asked whether he expected Altior to return next season, he added: “I hope so – there’s no reason why not.

“He’s as fresh as paint here and in great form.”

While Henderson has famously never won the Randox Grand National, he has won the other big race over the famous fences – the Topham Chase – on five occasions.

This year he plans to run Caribean Boy, Lust For Glory, Morning Vicar and Precious Cargo, saying: “It’s easy going round (the National course) once, but getting round twice is a big problem!

“All four are intended runners. They’ve all schooled over National fences and all went well.”

On The Blind Side and Call Me Lord, meanwhile, could contest the Ryanair Stayers Hurdle on Grand National day.

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