December 8, 2021

Nine rivals for Epatante

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Champion Hurdle heroine Epatante will face a maximum of nine rivals in the Betfair Fighting Fifth at Newcastle on Saturday.

The JP McManus-owned mare provided trainer Nicky Henderson with a record eighth victory in the two-mile showpiece on the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival in March.

She will be the hot favourite to make a successful return to action in a race Henderson has won five times in all, including twice in the last three years with Buveur D’Air.

The Seven Barrows handler has also left in Marie’s Rock, although she is expected to take up an alternative engagement in the Ladbrokes Gerry Feilden Intermediate Handicap Hurdle at Newbury on the same afternoon.

Cornerstone Lad, who inflicted a shock defeat on Buveur D’Air in last year’s Fighting Fifth, is set to defend his crown for Micky Hammond following a recent Flat success at Redcar.

Silver Streak was third behind Cornerstone Lad and Buveur D’Air 12 months ago, and his trainer Evan Williams will be hoping for a sound surface on his return to Gosforth Park this weekend.

Sceau Royal has already won the Welsh Champion Hurdle at Ffos Las and the Elite Hurdle at Wincanton this season, while the Nicky Richards-trained Ribble Valley is set for a step up in class after impressing on his Carlisle comeback.

Millers Bank (Alex Hales), Not So Sleepy (Hughie Morrison), Solo Saxophone (Ben Haslam) and Voix Du Reve (Iain Jardine) complete the potential field, with Epatante installed as the 4-7 market leader with the sponsors.