Cheltenham Festival: 3 weekend takeaways as Shishkin shows Arkle class

Our racing boffins deliver their key takeaways from the weekend's action with one eye on the Cheltenham Festival.

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Shishkin underlines his Arkle credentials with another fast time

Arkle favourite SHISHKIN faced a straightforward task in the Lightning Novices’ Chase at Doncaster on Saturday and he had little trouble brushing aside his three rivals.

We didn’t learn anything new about Shishkin but, like he had done in the Wayward Lad Novices’ Chase at Kempton, he impressed on the clock as well as on the eye. Sometimes wide-margin wins can be deceptive but Shishkin’s exploits on the clock provide proof that he is a chaser out of the top drawer.

Shishkin won the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at last year’s Cheltenham Festival and he is currently a short-priced favourite to land the Arkle at this year’s meeting. He deserves his position at the head of the market, though Energumene – who is set to contest the Irish Arkle on Saturday – is also a hugely exciting prospect and a clash between the pair will be fascinating viewing.

Shishkin

Festival Novices’ Chase prospect Eklat de Rire impresses at Naas

EKLAT DE RIRE showed promise during a light campaign over hurdles last season, winning one of his two starts, and like many from the Henry de Bromhead yard he has proved a natural since going chasing.

Eklat de Rire looked a good prospect when winning on his chasing debut at Punchestown in December, and he showed improved form to maintain his unbeaten record over fences in a Grade 3 at Naas on Sunday. His jumping is very assured for one so inexperienced and he put in an excellent round on his way to a comfortable length-and-three-quarter success at Naas, only needing to be pushed out hands-and-heels to fend off the unexposed Escaria Ten, with the pair six-and-a-half lengths clear of Pencilfulloflead, who had finished runner-up in a Grade 1 on his previous start.

That level of form isn’t far short of what Festival Novices’ Chase favourite Monkfish has shown – only 5lb separate the pair on Timeform ratings – so the exciting Eklat de Rire is very much entitled to take his chance at Cheltenham.

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Billaway needs to improve jumping

BILLAWAY is the favourite for the Festival Hunters’ Chase and has to be high on anyone’s shortlist given that he finished runner-up in last year’s event and has won two of his three subsequent outings. He had most of Ireland’s leading hunter chasers in behind when beating Staker Wallace by two-and-a-quarter lengths at Naas on Sunday, but it should be noted that he failed to impress with his jumping, making a sequence of minor errors.

That was the second time this season that Timeform’s reporter gave Billaway the ‘x’ in-running symbol, denoting that he made mistakes. He will need to brush up on his jumping at Cheltenham.

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