Coleman to reunite with Epatante in Fighting Fifth

Aidan Coleman is set to be reunited with Champion Hurdle heroine Epatante when she makes her seasonal reappearance in the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle on Saturday week.

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 under the now-retired Barry Geraghty.

Epatante enjoyed a racecourse spin with esteemed stable companion Altior during the Ladbrokes Winter Carnival Gallops Morning at Newbury on Tuesday – finishing full of running in the hands of Jerry McGrath, while Nico de Boinville pushed Henderson’s dual Champion Chase winner out to the line.

With Henderson’s stable jockey De Boinville set to be back in Berkshire for the Ladbrokes Trophy meeting, Coleman is in line to partner Epatante at Gosforth Park on the same day, having steered her to win the race formerly known as the Gerry Feilden at Newbury 12 months ago.

“Aidan Coleman will ride Epatante at Newcastle. It’s part of the plan, because Nico will be here,” said Henderson.

“Aidan was due to be here this morning, but unfortunately we were told yesterday that jockeys couldn’t ride at a race meeting and here.

“JP has got a lot of horses, and Aidan is going to be riding a few of them – there is no particular retained jockey in this country.

“He won the Gerry Feilden on her last year, so he has ridden her before.”

Marie's Rock (left) worked with Floressa at Newbury
Marie’s Rock (left) worked with Floressa at Newbury (Andrew Matthews/PA)

Another high-class mare from Seven Barrows to strut her stuff at Newbury was Marie’s Rock, who worked alongside Floressa.

Marie’s Rock is unbeaten in three starts and is pencilled in to make her first competitive appearance since last December in the race won by Epatante at Newbury last season.

Henderson added: “She is definitely on target for the Gerry Feilden.

“It is interesting to think that Epatante came here for that last year rated 137 and Marie’s Rock is 141, so she is technically a better filly at this moment than Epatante was this time last year, but I wouldn’t read too much into that!

“I do think Marie’s Rock is a good filly. She was unbeaten, then unfortunately she had a problem just a fortnight before Cheltenham where she was heading to the mares’ novices’ hurdle – we fancied her quite a lot.

“I think she is a very smart. She had a good gallop this morning and will be ready for the Gerry Feilden.”

Henderson also issued a positive update on the well-being of dual Champion Hurdle hero Buveur D’Air.

The nine-year-old has been off the track since suffering a well documented foot injury in last year’s Fighting Fifth, but is reported to be making excellent progress.

“Don’t forget we have Buveur D’Air, who is in very good form. I can’t tell you where he is going to go but he is doing a lot of work and he is very well,” said Henderson.

“Hopefully he and Epatante will meet in March. In my absence, he went a mile and a quarter up the grass at home this morning. He is still cantering – he has not started fast work yet, but touch wood, it’s all going to plan.

“He wouldn’t be ready for the Christmas Hurdle. To be honest with you, even if you went for the Contenders Hurdle (at Sandown in February) and then to Cheltenham, you would have settled for that at the start of the season, but we appear to be miles ahead of that schedule.

“His foot has grown over. He seems in tremendous form, but it was a horrific injury.

“Everybody has done a brilliant job, and to get him back is a dream.”

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