Fighting Fifth Hurdle Tips: Epatante to prove too strong

Fighting Fifth Hurdle Tips: Champion Hurdle winner Epatante is a hot favourite for Newcastle showpiece
Fighting Fifth Hurdle Tips: Champion Hurdle winner Epatante is a hot favourite for Newcastle showpiece

Steve Chambers previews Saturday's Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle, which will see the return of Champion Hurdle heroine Epatante, who is a warm order to prevail in this Grade 1 feature...

Nicky Henderson used the Fighting Fifth Hurdle as a stepping stone to Champion Hurdle glory with Seven Barrows superstar Buveur D'Air, who won both Grade 1 events in 2017 and 2018, and the veteran National Hunt legend will embark on the same journey with star mare Epatante, who heads to the North East racecourse as the reigning Champion Hurdle heroine.

Lining up as a red-hot odds-on favourite on Saturday, Epatante will be the class act in the seven-strong field, and if she can replicate her authoritative victory in the Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in March, then she will prove far too classy for her six rivals. Progressing at a rate of knots last season, Epatante's development over hurdles was a joy to watch, and she pulverised a decent field in the Grade 1 Championship showpiece at Cheltenham, and if she shows the same sort of form over timber this year then she will the one to beat in the 2021 Champion Hurdle.

She's already sitting at the head of the ante-post betting for the Champion Hurdle, and a win on Saturday will cement her place at the summit, and following Goshen's scratching earlier in the week then she will face an easier task at Newcastle, but will have some decent performers taking her on.

A smooth traveller, Epatante's only career defeat came in the Mares' Novices' Hurdle at the 2019 Cheltenham Festival, but she extinguished that blip on her first start last season in a listed contest at Newbury. Having shown she can perform to a high level on her first start of the year, the mare can kick off her campaign on a winning note. She will be in receipt of a significant weight pull from her male adversaries, and that 7 lb allowance will certainly aid her chances considerably. She can kick off her quest for Champion Hurdle glory in 2021 with a win, and hand the Henderson team a sixth win in the race.

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If you were to go by the betting, the two main dangers to Epatante will be Alan King's Sceau Royal and the Evan Williams-trained Silver Streak. Both head into the race in fine fettle, with the former having already recorded two wins this season, while the latter has a solitary success to his name this term, but this test will be a whole lot tougher against a proven top notch Grade 1 performer.

Sceau Royal last competed in this race in 2016, when he finished fourth behind Irving, but the eight-year-old has hit a real purple patch in the first part of the season, and heads into the contest in red-hot form. An impressive two and three quarter length winner of the Welsh Champion Hurdle at Ffos Las last month, Sceau Royal then serenely sauntered to a seven length success in the Elite Hurdle at Wincanton earlier this month. With race fitness on his side, Sceau Royal has to be given the utmost respect here, but he has often been a horse that has flattered to deceive at the highest level, and he may find it tough to deal with the class of Epatante.

Silver Streak was a hugely impressive six length winner of a listed event at Kempton Park last month, and the galloping grey will look to kick on this weekend with his first Grade 1 success over timber. A well beaten third in this race 12 months ago, Silver Streak then faced Epatante in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton Park, but Henderson's mare made light work of her rival as Epatante won by five lengths. A gutsy sixth-placed finish from Silver Streak in the Champion Hurdle saw Epatante frank the form yet again, and it's hard to see the Williams gelding reversing the form on Saturday. With only seven runners then each-way players will have their work cut out with only the top two places paying out in that market, and while Silver Streak should put up a decent effort, it's likely he will struggle to hit the frame, and can be scratched off the shortlist.

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Micky Hammond's Cornerstone Lad recorded one of the shocks of the season in this race 12 months ago, as the unfancied 16/1 shot outbattled dual 2019 Champion Hurdle winner Buveur D'Air, and he is a similar price to land Saturday's prize. While he has an unbeaten record at Newcastle (two wins from two), he has found life tough elsewhere, and he was pulled up in the Champion Hurdle in March. He was a narrow winner on the Flat last time out at Redcar, so heads to Newcastle in decent form, but it's hard to see him replicating last year's heroics and he can be ignored.

The potential improver in the field is the Nicky Richards-trained Ribble Valley, who only has seven runs under Rules to his name so far, but is gradually on the rise. Second in a Grade 2 novice hurdle last season, Ribble Valley kicked off this season with a taking win at Carlisle in October. This will be a huge step up in class, but the manner in which he won that Carlisle event showed that he has some talent, and while this may come a little early in his career to land a prize at the highest level, he could well run well for a long way, and at double-figured odds is worth keeping an eye on.

Not So Sleepy and Voix Du Reve complete the line-up, and the former was last seen finishing fourth in the Cesarewitch at Newmarket, but had previously been pulled up in the Champion Hurdle, and his jumping can often come into question. Voix Du Reve has returned to the hurdling sphere after a disappointing chasing career, but was unable to land a blow at Aintree last month, and is making the numbers up here in a race that can see Epatante secure her place as the premier hurdler on British shores.

Selection:

Fighting Fifth Hurdle, Newcastle, Saturday 28th November - back Epatante at 4/7

Fighting Fifth Hurdle
Epatante silk

Epatante

won
2021 Cheltenham Festival
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