The brilliant victory of Epitante in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton resulted in the mare rocketing to the head of the Champion Hurdle market.
She began the season behind Buveur d’Air, Pentland Hills and Fusil Raffles in Nicky Henderson’s pecking order for the top hurdling prize. An injury has ruled out two-time winner Buveur d’Air who races in the same colours as Epitante, those of JP McManus.
The green and gold silks have been carried to victory a record eight times. Three of those victories came with Istabraq and Epitante will be trying to extend the owner’s winning sequence to four following Buveur d’Air (2017, 2018) and Espoir d’Allen (2019).
Henderson regarded Epitante as one of his best chances at last season’s Cheltenham Festival but she suffered her only defeat. It is interesting that she wore a hood that day but has shown no sign of needing the headgear this term. She won by six lengths at Newbury before slamming her Kempton rivals.
Epitante was receiving 7lbs from Silver Streak who finished five lengths away in second. The grey finished 15 lengths away in third in last year’s Champion Hurdle so Epitante certainly looks a worthy favourite.
One of her biggest rivals may yet be Triumph Hurdle winner Pentland Hills who travelled well for a long way on his seasonal reappearance. He raced too keenly that day and could be a different proposition on Champion Hurdle day. The Irish challenge will be led by Saldier, Klassical Dream and Sharjah.