A year is an awfully long time in jumps racing it seems, as trainer Nicky Henderson's Shishkin has found out.
As the countdown for the 2023 Cheltenham Festival intensifies, we are taking a look at some of the horses expected to play major roles in the Cotswolds.
Shishkin was odds-on favourite for the Queen Mother Champion Chase in 2022, but his stock HAS plummeted since and he didn't even get an entry for that Championship contest this time around.
Can he resurrect his career in the Cotswolds come March? We take a look at the state of play for Shishkin.
|Where||Cheltenham Festival, Cheltenham Racecourse, Gloucestershire|
|When||2.50, Thursday 16th March 2023|
|How to watch||ITV Racing, Racing TV & bet365 Sports Live Streaming|
|Odds||Allaho 7/4, Blue Lord 5/1, Shishkin 8/1, Fakir D'oudairies 10/1, Conflated 12/1, Pic D'orhy 16/1|
On the 22nd January 2022, Shishkin won the Clarence House Chase at Ascot, making it a perfect seven-from-seven over fences in doing so and winning his first Grade 1 chase in open company.
You'd have got fairly long odds that afternoon for that to be his first and last two-mile Grade 1 win at elite level, but that's now how it seems.
That contest was feted as being the 'race of the season' over jumps, despite only having four runners, two of whom were playing bit-parts.
Energumene was viewed as the big threat to Shishkin, with his bold front-running style expected to serve it up to Henderson's star.
And so it proved, Shishkin looking to be in some trouble midway after a stumble and continuing to look booked for second-best for most of the journey up Ascot's home straight, but, once the final fence was cleared, Nico de Boinville's partner accelerated on the outside and wore down Energumene in the final strides to ultimately win by a decisive and convincing length at the line.
He'd faced his toughest test and come through. It was full steam ahead to Cheltenham and a rematch everyone felt he would win.
It was one of the most eagerly anticipated races of recent Cheltenham Festivals, but it proved to be anticlimactic, as Energumene won the Queen Mother Champion Chase at a canter after his two main rivals - Shishkin and Chacun Pour Soi - failed to complete.
They both faltered by the fifth-last fence, leaving Energumene to dominate. Chacun Pour Soi was seemingly going well and a danger when Patrick Mullins was unseated, but Shishkin had been pulled up on the approach to the ninth by de Boinville.
Almost from flag-fall, things didn't appear right with the favourite and De Boinville confessed he was worried immediately. The writing was on the wall and the rider accepted his fate.
Henderson laid some blame at the door of the pre-race downpour, but that looks fanciful especially given what has happened since.
Energumene hasn't been defeated since that Ascot race and is 8/11 to retain his Champion Chase crown on 15th March, while Shishkin won't even be there this time.
A year is a long time in racing indeed.
That run last March was Shishkin's final outing of the season. Just one poor outing wasn't going to see him written off and so, in early December, he went off 6/5fav to win the Grade 1 Tingle Creek at Sandown.
Often noted for going through flat periods in races, Shishkin was equally well known for responding in kind, but this time there was no rally from him as Edwardstone stormed clear to win the Sandown prize.
Greaneteen - a rival Shishkin had dismissed readily at Kempton 12 months previously - took second spot, six lengths clear of a tired Shishkin in third.
For Henderson, the Ascot Chase on 18th February over 2m5f has become the target now, the Seven Barrows supremo effectively conceding Shishkin's days as a top two-miler are over as an eight-year-old with just nine chase starts behind him.
Referencing one of his former stable stars, Henderson recently suggested: "We've had two hiccups but we fought back with Sprinter Sacre and we'll fight back with him."
If he can rediscover his form at Ascot in February, Shishkin would pose a massive threat to all in the Ryanair Chase, where he's 8/1, but for now there are major questions to be answered for the one-time superstar in the making.