Shishkin edged out Abacadabras in a pulsating renewal of the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.
A field of 15 runners went to post for the traditional Cheltenham Festival curtain-raiser, with the Willie Mullins-trained Asterion Forlonge sent off the 9-4 favourite.
The grey made much of the running under Paul Townend, but jumped violently right three flights from home, impeding some of his rivals, while at the following obstacle his stablemate Elixir D’Ainay exited the piece and brought down Captain Guinness.
So impressive in winning his last two starts, Nicky Henderson’s Shishkin had long been towards the top of ante-post lists, but drifted out to 6-1 come the off.
Despite never travelling with much fluency, he began to make inroads on the leaders racing down the hill and tracked the strong-travelling Abacadabras into the home straight.
The pair settled down to fight it out on the run-in and flashed by the post almost as one, before the judged confirmed the Nico de Boinville-ridden Shishkin the winner by a head. The winner’s stable companion, Chantry House, was third.
Henderson – who has been forced to rule stable star Altior out of the Champion Chase – said: “We say it every year, that something will come and bite you and sadly this year it was Altior, so it’s a relief to begin with a winner.
“He was one of our more powerful shots of the week, but all three ran well really (Allart was fifth) – they are three lovely horses.
“I couldn’t see what was happening to Shishkin coming down the hill, he got slightly hampered and Barry (Geraghty) looked in the right place on Chantry House, but Shishkin has got those gears – and he needed them.
“Nico was cool-headed, we know he’s cool round here.”
He added: “Both Shishkin and Chantry House are chasers of the future – both gorgeous horses for the future so we’ve a lot to look forward to. As former point-to-pointers I’d imagine they’ll go chasing, but we’ll see.”
Gordon Elliott said of the runner-up : “He has done everything right there, but he just ended up being beaten by a better horse on the day. We are kind of disappointed he didn’t win, but we have no excuses.
“He is a good horse and there will be other days with him. You will probably see him at Punchestown, all being well.”