Epatante bidding to show champion class in Christmas Hurdle defence

All eyes will be on Epatante as the brilliant mare seeks to defend her crown in the Ladbrokes Christmas Hurdle at Kempton Park on Boxing Day.

The Champion Hurdle heroine returned to action with a stylish success in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle and will be all the rage to capture the two-mile Grade One prize for the second year running.

But Nicky Henderson, who is also represented by Floressa, feels her latest assignment should not be seen as merely a penalty kick.

Henderson said: “We’re going to take the same route as last season – she almost certainly won’t run again before Cheltenham.

“She’s got to come through this test first. It will test the horse and it’s testing times for us – there’s a lot at stake.

“Only a really good performance will satisfy the pundits. If it’s not tip-top, it won’t be satisfactory, but there’s a lot more to it than just going round, I assure you.

“The criteria for these really good two-mile hurdlers is their jumping – it’s how they cross a hurdle and how quickly they get from A to B.”

Silver Streak will attempt to go one better place than 12 months ago in the Ladbrokes Christmas Hurdle at Kempton (Alan Crowhurst/PA)
Silver Streak will attempt to go one better place than 12 months ago in the Ladbrokes Christmas Hurdle at Kempton (Alan Crowhurst/PA)
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Evan Williams is under no illusion that last year’s runner-up Silver Streak faces a tall order in reversing the placings, but with ground conditions set to suit he remains optimistic of a big run.

“The reason Silver Streak does so well is that he battles and toughs it out against whatever he’s up against,” said the Welsh trainer.

“It would be nice one day to get his ground (in a Grade One) – and I think it could be OK on Saturday. The negative is obviously the filly is very, very talented and will be very difficult to beat. But he might get there one day, because of his attitude. He’s got the most remarkable attitude.”

Since making a winning return at Kempton in a Listed event, Silver Streak has been carried out in the Fighting Fifth before being denied a first Grade Two success in a photo for the International Hurdle at Cheltenham.

He added on call hosted by Great British Racing: “What happened at Newcastle, there are days you come back from the races upset and irritated – but those things happen. That wasn’t anybody’s fault, that was just racing.

“We were beaten fair and square (in the International) – Tom’s (Symonds) horse (Song For Someone) gave us weight, and the hurdles being out was the same for everybody in the race.

“If the hurdles had been in, Tom’s horse would probably have beaten us further because his horse is a good jumper.”

Sam Twiston-Davies expects Ballyandy to run another solid race at Kempton (Julian Herbert/PA)
Sam Twiston-Davies expects Ballyandy to run another solid race at Kempton (Julian Herbert/PA)

Sam Twiston-Davies hopes last year’s third Ballyandy, trained by his father, Nigel, can reach the frame once again having been placed in all three of his starts this season.

The Grade One-winning rider, who is an ambassador for William Hill, said: “I’m really looking forward to riding him. He has been an absolute star for us this season.

“Epatante will be very hard to beat, but at the same time he has run some very consistent races.

“We know that Kempton is probably not his ideal track and we will be looking forward to getting some heavy ground in the Champion Hurdle Trial at Haydock, but there is a lot of prize-money on offer

“It is a pleasure to have these sort of horses in the yard and if he was to go and win it would be lovely.”

Diego Du Charmil has plenty to find on official ratings, but trainer Paul Nicholls is optimistic he could sneak into a place.

He said: “We’re only playing for places as Epatante is a certainty if she turns up and runs her best race.

“It’s hard for Diego wherever he goes. He kept getting stuffed by Altior over fences, so there’s no point taking him on.

“We’ll run in the hurdle race and see if we can pick up some crumbs.”

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