The International Hurdle at Cheltenham caused little more than a ripple in the Champion Hurdle betting with no obvious challenger to Epatante emerging. The first six horses were covered by under 4 lengths as Song For Someone courageously held off the late challenge of Silver Streak. The consistent Ballyandy finished third with Sceau Royal, comfortably put in his place by Epatante at Newcastle last time, a close fourth.
The big disappointment of the race was Goshen who faded quickly and was subsequently found to have an irregular heartbeat. Last season’s unlucky last flight faller in the Triumph Hurdle will now miss his intended clash with Epatante in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton on Boxing Day. Goshen has been pushed out to 25-1 for the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham with Epatante now a best-priced 6-4 favourite.
JP McManus seeks tenth Champion Hurdle victory
Early tips and predictions on the Cheltenham Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy suggest it is going to be a very lop-sided betting heat. History would certainly appear to be in Epatante’s favour. She is owned by JP McManus who has won the race a record 9 times while Nicky Henderson leads the trainer statistics with eight. There have also been numerous back-to-back winners including Istabraq (1998-2000) and Buveur D’Air (2017-2018) who both raced inthe McManus colours.
JP McManus has won the last four renewals with the ill-fated Espoir d’Allen routing the opposition in 2019 for trainer Gavin Cromwell. Not even the tragic loss of Espoir d’Allen and an injury to Buveur D’Air could prevent JP from retaining the prize. Epatante announced herself as a Champion Hurdle contender when blazing to a 5 lengths win in last year’s Christmas Hurdle. At Cheltenham, she displayed an excellent turn of foot to beat Sharjah by 3 lengths.
Epatante outclassed rivals in Fighting Fifth
Her reappearance in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle was marred by a bizarre incident at the first. Not So Sleepy jinked to his rider and unshipped Paddy Brennan, the horse than galloping riderless and forcing Silver Streak to run out at the second. It was left to Sceau Royal to provide the only serious opposition but Epatante quickened impressively to win with plenty in hand.
The only significant trial in Ireland so far this season was the Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown in mid-November. This turned into a muddling affair with Mark Walsh coming in for criticism in some quarters for his neck defeat on Saint Roi. The odds-on favourite was beaten by Abacadabras with Jason The Militant only a short-head back in third. Saint Roi won last season’s County Hurdle before taking a Grade 3 at Tipperary in October.
Matheson Hurdle could hold Champion Hurdle clues
We will have a better idea of the merits of the Morgiana form when the front two renew rivalry in the Matheson Hurdle at Leopardstown on December 29th. Willie Mullins trains Saint Roi and has other entries for that race in Sharjah, Concertista and Saldier. Concertista won the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle at last season’s Cheltenham Festival by 12 lengths.
Henry De Bromhead’s Aspire Tower is currently 20-1 for the Champion Hurdle, more than twice of the price of Abacadabras. Aspire Tower beat that rival by four and a half lengths at Down Royal in October under Rachael Blackmore. He finished runner-up to Burning Victory in last season’s Triumph Hurdle but his trainer felt that he was not quite as sharp as he had been earlier in the season.
The record of Triumph horses running in the Champion Hurdle the next season is dire with Katchit being the last to successfully make the leap in 2008. The Matheson promises to be an informative trial but it will take something special to challenge Epatante’s stranglehold on the betting market.