Shishkin is hot on his heels
Paul Nicholls' main chance is with Pic D'Orhy
Tight tussle at the top
Grade 1 winners Shishkin and Fakir D'Oudairies feature among 13 entries for the Betfair Ascot Chase at Ascot on Saturday.
The two-mile, five-furlong highlight has record prize money of £175,000 in 2023, up from £150,000 last year, and is sponsored by Betfair for the 15th consecutive year.
Shishkin's trainer Nicky Henderson is looking to step the nine-year-old up in trip following his third behind Edwardstone in the Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown Park in December.
Shishkin has won three Grade 1 chases at around two miles, including his memorable defeat of Energumene in last year's Clarence House Chase, although his novice hurdle campaign included a Listed victory at Huntingdon over just shy of two and a half miles.
Henderson said: "Shishkin worked this morning. We were all very happy with him and he is on schedule for the Betfair Ascot Chase."
"The step up in trip is not even a question mark for me, it is an absolute necessity, and consequently we did not even enter him for the Champion Chase."
"You would like to think that this could take you on to the Ryanair Chase, although we also put him in the Gold Cup as we have come to the firm conclusion that he is a stayer, but we will see."
Fakir the right favourite?
Last year's Betfair Ascot Chase winner Fakir D'Oudairies has been one of the leading chasers over intermediate distances in recent seasons, also winning back-to-back editions of Aintree's G1 Melling Chase.
The eight-year-old could not live with Galopin Des Champs in the Grade 1 John Durkan Memorial Chase at Punchestown on his return before returning to winning ways in the Grade 2 Horse & Jockey Hotel Chase at Thurles.
Trainer Joseph O'Brien said: "Fakir D'Oudairies is an intended runner in the Betfair Ascot Chase."We were very pleased with how his prep went in Thurles. It was a very hot race and should hopefully set him up for another successful spring campaign."
"He has been around for a while and has achieved a lot already, but he is not an old horse by any means and I see no reason why he can't have another good end to this season at least."
Nicholls' two pronged attack
Paul Nicholls has two possible runners as he eyes a record fifth Betfair Ascot Chase win, headed by progressive G2 Silviniaco Conti Chase victor Pic D'Orhy.
The highly regarded Hitman is also engaged.
Other notable contenders include last year's runner-up Two For Gold, one of two entries for Kim Bailey alongside 2021 Grade 1 Clarence House Chase victor First Flow.
Betfair spokesman, Barry Orr, commented today: "It is a really strong list of entries and Fakir D'Oudairies, the 7/4 favourite, looks sure to make the trip to defend his crown."
"There is also an eye-catching entry for Shishkin, who is a 3/1 shot. Pic D'Orhy is an improved horse this season and could be a popular pick in the coming weeks. He is currently trading at 7/2."
7/4 Fakir D'Oudairies
7/2 Pic D'Orhy
6/1 Fanion d'Estruval
10/1 Millers Bank
14/1 Two For Gold
16/1 Paint The Dream
20/1 First Flow
40/1 Aye Right, Minella Drama
Each-Way 3 Places 1/5 Odds