Epatante has chance to get back to winning ways at Haydock

With stablemate Constitution Hill safely tucked away in his box, Epatante appears to have been found an excellent opportunity to get back to winning ways in The New One Unibet Hurdle at Haydock on Saturday.

The JP McManus-owned mare is clearly no slouch, with a Champion Hurdle, an Aintree Hurdle, two Christmas Hurdles and two Fighting Fifth Hurdles already in her satchel.

She has proved no match for the magnificent Constitution Hill in either the Fighting Fifth or the Christmas Hurdle so far this season, beaten 12 lengths at Newcastle and 17 at Kempton. But she was comfortably best of the rest on both occasions and is odds-on for this weekend’s Grade Two assignment.

Henderson told Unibet: “I think for all of us the ground is a bit of a worry but there’s nothing we can do about it and at the moment we just have to take what we can.

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“She isn’t a gigantic mare but has won on soft ground before so you’d like to think she’ll at least get through it and she’s been in good form at home. She’s been ticking over nicely and this is a good opportunity to give her the chance of winning a race after bumping into Constitution Hill all season.

“It would just be lovely to get her head back in front again and give her some confidence.”

He added: “She had a terrific season last year, winning three Grade Ones, so owes us absolutely nothing, but she still retains all her ability and (for her) it’s a shame a certain horse owned by Michael Buckley has come on the scene because she would’ve already won two Grade Ones this season and likely be favourite for the Unibet Champion Hurdle!”

The highest-rated horse in the field is Jason The Militant, who makes his debut for Phil Kirby after being bought out of Henry de Bromhead’s yard.

The nine-year-old, who won at Grade Three and Grade Two level over hurdles, has also been declared for Lingfield on Sunday – but looks set to head for Merseyside provided the meeting goes ahead.

Kirby said: “He’s settled in grand and he’s been very straightforward. He’s done everything he’s been asked to do and we were hoping for some soft ground this weekend. It looks like we’ve got it, so we just need the racing to be on somewhere.

“We’ve had him around a month or so. He’s an older horse so he was perhaps ready for a change of scenery. We’re going to try and freshen him back up and try and get him somewhere back to where he was.

“He hasn’t been running badly though and he’s almost exclusively been running in top-level races. He’s a lovely horse and he’s got a nice rating, so these are the races he’s got to run in really.”

I Like To Move It won Greatwood Hurdle in November for Nigel and Sam Twiston-Davies, but needs to bounce back from a disappointing effort in the Relkeel on New Year’s Day.

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I Like To Move It won the Greatwood Hurdle earlier this season
I Like To Move It won the Greatwood Hurdle earlier this season (Tim Goode/PA)

High-class chaser Minella Drama is an interesting contender – switching back to hurdles for the first time since finishing second in a Grade One novice race at Aintree in the spring of 2021.

“I had him in the Peter Marsh and I was tempted, but it’s three-mile-two, and I had him the Fleur De Lys Chase at Lingfield on Sunday, but with his Grade Two penalty he was giving weight to horses rated higher than him,” said trainer Donald McCain.

“It’s always kind of been in my head, is he a better chaser than a hurdler? I know this is a Champion Hurdle trial, but he goes on the ground and he likes the track and he’s in good nick.

“On his last run over hurdles he was second in a Grade One and we’ve done it before in this race (with Navajo Pass in 2021), so we thought we’d give it another go.”

Nells Son (Nicky Richards) and For Pleasure (Alex Hales) complete the line-up.

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