Epatante might face six


Epatante faces a maximum of six rivals when she asks for two consecutive wins at the Ladbrokes Christmas Hurdle in Kempton.

Owned by JP McManus, six-year-old trainer Nicky Henderson secured a ninth Boxing Day Grade One win last season before claiming Champion Hurdle fame on her next appearance at the Cheltenham Festival.

She looked as good as ever when she successfully launched the new Fighting Fifth Hurdle campaign in Newcastle last month, and Henderson reports that his star is firmly on track for her final outing.

"Fighting Fifth was a pretty unsatisfactory race, with Not So Sleepy causing carnage the first time," said the Seven Barrows driver.

"This has always been the way we wanted to go. Touch wood since Newcastle has been going well – she had her medical exam this morning and everything was fine.

"Your job has been good and it is ready to go."

Epatante could renew the rivalry with Alan King's Fighting Fifth runner-up Sceau Royal, who has since been fourth on the Cheltenham International Hurdle.

The Evan Williams trained Silver Streak was the best of the others on the Christmas hurdle last year. The gray was performed by Not So Sleepy in Fighting Fifth before being smacked by Song For Someone in the International.

Gary Moore's Goshen was found to have a heart problem after a disappointing effort in the International, but he could get active again relatively quickly.

Henderson's apparent second string Floressa, trained by Paul Nicholls, Diego Du Charmil, and Ballyandy by Nigel Twiston-Davies' Hof complete the potential field.

The Ladbrokes Kauto Star Novices chase, for which nine horses have been registered, will also receive Class 1 honors.

Nicholls will saddle Enrilo – with Colin Tizzard's The Big Breakaway, Harry Fry's If The Cap Fits and Dan Skelton's Shan Blue among his likely opponents.


Steven Gregory