Trainer Nicky Henderson will not be rushing into a decision on whether or not to run star chaser Shishkin in the Clarence House Chase at Ascot.
The Desert Orchid Chase winner could potentially feature in a battle of the best of Britain and Ireland’s two-mile division, with Willie Mullins’ Energumene on target for the Grade One test on January 22, live on Sky Sports Racing.
The pair had been set to clash at the Cheltenham Festival last year but a last-minute setback saw Energumene miss the Arkle Novices’ Chase as Shishkin cruised to victory under Nico de Boinville.
“We’re going to meet Energumene sooner or later, there’s no doubt about that,” Henderson told Sky Sports Racing.
“We’re considering Ascot. He went for a nice day out over a mile and a quarter on the grass the other day and seems in good form.
“The plan is to work him at the weekend with Nico riding.
“Before we went to Kempton, I wasn’t 100 per cent certain we were all the way there. I don’t think we were, I think there’s plenty of improvement to come.
“It was only that last bit of work that convinced us that we were ready to go. I think it’ll be the same thing.
“We will be doing what’s best for the horse and if he says he is right and ready to go then we will take on Energumene, First Flow and others.
“I’m not going to promise that we will go because I can’t. I don’t want to get into that debate again.”
Henderson received criticism following a decision not to run Shishkin in his expected early-season target, the Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown last month.
At the time, the Seven Barrows handler blamed a lack of spark in Shishkin’s work on the gallops and subsequent tests highlighted a genuine issue.
“I have a piece of paper here that will show you exactly why he didn’t run in the Tingle Creek,” Henderson explained.
“We took a trachea wash from him and he had the most horrendous figures. That tells you he was sick.
“Actually, he’d been telling me that a week before when he wasn’t working very well.
“There was no way he could run; he’d have pulled up and been ruined for life.
“We’re not trying to fool anybody; we’re just trying to get the horse where it needs to be. I’m afraid they’ve got to believe us.”
Bailey: We have to take on Shishkin
Defending Clarence House Chase champion First Flow looks certain to feature at Ascot again this month.
Kim Bailey’s 10-year-old steps back in trip after winning over two-and-a-half miles in the Grade Two Peterborough Chase at Huntingdon last month.
Bailey told Sky Sports Racing: “You’ve got to take on horses like Shishkin because there are only going to be two or three runners and we’re racing for decent prize money. We have to go.
“First Flow loves Ascot and runs extremely well every time he goes, so he’s there to try and retain his crown.
“If we end up finishing second to Shishkin then we’ve still run a very good race.
“I’m very much hoping when we get to Ascot it will be very heavy ground. He won it in impressive fashion last year when the ground was in his favour. If the ground comes out in his favour again then he’s got to go there with every chance.
“The Peterborough Chase was a bit of a gamble and I didn’t think we should go for the Tingle Creek as they were talking about watering. He wouldn’t have been quick enough on good ground around Sandown to keep up with those horses.
“It’s opened a few other horizons for us but it doesn’t make the job much easier because there aren’t that many races for him.”