Shishkin returned to action in the Grade 2 Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton on Monday and produced a breathtaking performance to slaughter his three rivals by upwards of ten lengths. The seven year old hadn't been sighted since scoring at Aintree in April, he underwent wind surgery during the summer and looked better than ever on his seasonal reappearance. Jumping slickly throughout, he toyed the Tingle Creek winner Greaneteen before sauntering away. Nicky Henderson indicated afterwards that the Sholokhov gelding is likely to be entered in the Grade 1 Clarence House Chase at Ascot next month (22nd January) but the race may come too soon. The alternative would be the Game Spirit Chase at Newbury (12th February) but it wouldn't be a surprise if he went straight to the Festival in March for the Queen Mother Champion Chase. Fair play to the Seven Barrows team, they received their fair share of flak for not running the dual Cheltenham winner at Sandown earlier this month - as the trainer said himself, he knows what he is doing. He didn't do a bad job with See You Then who we rarely saw but when we did, he won the Champion Hurdle three times.
The juvenile hurdle scene looks particularly strong this season and French imports Icare Allen and Iceo looked high-class recruits winning at Leopardstown and Kempton respectively. The pair were highlighted in the Christmas Special and I was particularly looking forward to seeing the former. The Cokoriko gelding didn't disappoint either as he beat a large field of three year olds by three lengths. A bumper winner in his home country, he travelled smoothly before staying on strongly after the last. Willie Mullins' charge can only improve with experience and he is set to return to the same track for the Grade 1 event at the Dublin Racing Festival in February. Iceo raced keenly early on his first start for Paul Nicholls but he streaked clear in the homestraight to register a a seventeen lengths success. A gelded son of Coastal Path, he looks another smart prospect for Team Ditcheat.
Porticello, featured in the Top 40 Prospects, landed the Grade 1 Finale Hurdle at Chepstow with a powerful staying performance. Gary Moore's three year old had been unfortunate to lose his unbeaten record at Doncaster this month but regained the winning threat as he ran on strongly to win by eight and a half lengths. The slow ground and stiff track played to his strengths. Time will tell whether he is quick enough to win a Triumph Hurdle but the New course at Cheltenham will bring out the best in him in March.
Otherwise, it was another frustrating day with Highland Hunter (11/1) running a cracker in the Welsh National before finishing second behind Sam Thomas' Iwilldoit. Three Stripe Life, also in the Top 40, filled the same position in the Grade 1 Future Champions Novice Hurdle at Leopardstown. Beaten a length and a half by stablemate Mighty Potter, the mistake he made at the second last proved costly. He will be even better over further in time.
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