2020 Champion Hurdle winner Epatante is set to defend her title in the Grade One Fighting Fifth at Newcastle next week with her trainer Nicky Henderson confident she can get back to somewhere near her best this season.
The JP McManus owned superstar has been seen 10 times since coming to England under the Seven Barrows handler and has gone on to land six of her races, including three Grade One events.
Two seasons ago the British raider started off in the Gerry Feilden Intermediate Hurdle at Newbury and then on her final start before Cheltenham landing the Grade One Christmas Hurdle at Kempton on Boxing Day.
This set her up perfectly for the Champion Hurdle when going off favourite and under a cool ride by Barry Geraghty went on to land the prestigious event with ease.
She was the mare to beat in the two mile hurdling division heading into last season and cemented that thought on seasonal debut when landing the Grade One Fighting Fifth, never coming off the Bridle.
However, from there her season went downhill, being dethroned by Silver Streak in the Grade One Christmas Hurdle and then being well beaten into third in her title defence of the Champion Hurdle.
She was last seen in the Punchestown Champion Hurdle, again finishing third behind Honeysuckle and Sharjah.
The seven year old this season is looking to get back to the top of the division and she was recently seen in a team of five to the Berkshire track for some much-needed work on turf which he has been unable to do at home due to the dry autumn.
(Credit ATR) “Newbury have given us some beautiful ground to work on and Keith Ottesen (clerk of the course) has done a great job. Just to be able to come here, the timing is perfect, and apart from Epatante who goes to Newcastle, the rest that have worked this morning will be here the weekend after next,” said the Seven Barrows handler.
On Epatante’s work, Henderson said: “She was great. She’s been working very well but that will be her last bit ahead of Newcastle. Last season we found out a few things about her and her back was a pretty constant problem.
“Today I expected her to gallop all over the stayers, but Mister Coffey is a very good horse and those two pulled clear. In the last week she’s got the buzz back and I like the way she put her head down and really worked away.
“Her jumping said something last season, as she was brilliant at Newcastle but then it fell apart. I intentionally haven’t schooled her. She will need a school but we need rain.”