Epatante and Honeysuckle on course for Champion Hurdle as 14 remain

Defending champion Epatante and fellow mare Honeysuckle are among 14 left in the Unibet Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham next week.

Nicky Henderson’s Epatante will need to put a below-par effort at Kempton behind her if she is to join a relatively long list of multiple champion hurdlers.

Having looked better than ever when winning the Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle, she had no answer to the enterprisingly-ridden Silver Streak in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton.

The pair will meet again, with Evan Williams hoping his grey gets his favoured good ground once more, while Henderson reports his runner to be in fine form at home.

Nicky Henderson with Epatante
Nicky Henderson with Epatante (David Davies/PA)

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He told TalkSport: “Both (Champion Chase hope) Altior and Epatante did their last pieces of work this morning, and it went remarkably well.

“Our horses probably weren’t quite on song at Christmas. It was, for her, very disappointing in the Christmas Hurdle because she was so impressive in it last year, as she was in the Fighting Fifth first time out this year.

“Everything seems to be back on song. They both had their last serious piece of work – and we were all very, very happy.

Henry de Bromhead’s Honeysuckle remains unbeaten in her career and also has a previous Festival win to her credit – having got the better of Benie Des Dieux in the Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle 12 months ago.

This time she is in against the boys – but it is nothing she has not faced before, given she has won the Irish Champion Hurdle for the last two seasons.

De Bromhead also has a more than useful second string to his bow in the form of Aspire Tower – while his recent Red Mills Hurdle winner Jason The Militant may also line up.

Gary Moore’s Goshen would be a popular winner after what happened in the Triumph Hurdle last year, with that race at his mercy. He put himself right back in the picture with a stunning display at Wincanton recently.

Goshen unseated Jamie Moore at the last when well clear in the Triumph last year
Goshen unseated Jamie Moore at the last when well clear in the Triumph last year (Simon Cooper/PA)

Last year’s runner-up Sharjah is set to be back again for Willie Mullins but will have to do without the assistance of regular rider Patrick Mullins because of the current ban on amateur jockeys in Britain.

Mullins also has an interesting contender in James Du Berlais, who has been brought over from France essentially to go novice chasing next year. But given his lofty rating, Mullins is due to let him take his chance in this along the way. Saldier could also run for the same team.

Denise Foster, in her role as stand-in for Gordon Elliott while he serves his six-month ban, has Abacadabras and Petit Mouchoir still in the reckoning.

Not So Sleepy, For Pleasure and Song For Someone complete those still engaged.

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