Epatante has won six of her seven appearances of hurdles in his career, including the Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in 2020. Given how dominant she has been over the last 12 months on the track, should she be considered the banker on her return to the leading meeting in National Hunt racing in March?
On the evidence of her reappearance at Newcastle last month, where she prevailed in the Grade One Fighting Fifth Hurdle, it would appear she should be. The six-year-old looked to be in great shape, which bodes well for her bid to repeat what Buveur D’Air did in 2018 by defending her Champion Hurdle crown.
With Aidan Coleman on her back, the pair travelled so easily at Newcastle throughout the race. She was asked to quicken after the last hurdle and was then soon clear of her rivals, eventually finishing just over four lengths in front of the second-placed Sceau Royal.
Unlike many of the other divisions in National Hunt racing at the moment, Epatante is the clear star over hurdlers. Given her age, she also remains open to further improvement, which is bad news for her rivals.
Nicky Henderson’s star mare is 6/4 in the horse racing betting for the feature race on day one of the 2021 Cheltenham Festival. There is a very good chance she could go off at odds-on when the tape is released so she may be good value at her current odds.
It is worth noting that her one defeat over hurdles did come at the 2019 Cheltenham Festival in the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle. Many of Henderson’s horses were misfiring at the time so that disappointing run should not be enough to put you off backing her in the premier hurdle contest later this season.
Last Year’s Novices Lead the Charge Against Epatante
The challengers facing Epatante at Cheltenham this March are likely to be very different from in 2020 as the biggest threats against her look to be from last year’s leading novice hurdlers, including Abacadabras from Ireland.
Last season’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle runner-up won the Grade One Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown on his latest start. This success puts him very much in the picture for the Champion Hurdle, as it does for the horse who was just behind him by a neck at the Irish track, Saint Roi.
One of the most interesting horses in the field could be Goshen. But for unseating his rider at the last hurdle in the Triumph Hurdle, he would have won that Festival contest by over 10 lengths. Connections will be hoping he can gain compensation on his return to Cheltenham in the Champion Hurdle.
There is also the prospect of Epatante taking on the 2020 Mares’ Hurdle winner Honeysuckle next year. That would be a fascinating battle between two of the best mares the sport has seen for a number of years.
It looks set to be a great renewal of the leading hurdle contest in jumps racing, but one in which Epatante can win and continue her domination of the division.