Nicky Henderson feels he has Epatante “back in a good place” as the mare attempts to regain her Ladbrokes Christmas Hurdle crown at Kempton on Boxing Day.
Winner of the race in fine style in 2019, she was the hot favourite to record back-to-back victories last year but had no answer to the ill-fated Silver Streak.
The JP McManus-owned mare also failed to defend her Champion Hurdle title at Cheltenham, with Henderson subsequently discovering she had a problem with her back.
With that fixed the seven-year-old got back to winning ways in dead-heating with Not So Sleepy – who reopposes – in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle last month.
“I’d have to say I’m very happy. Everything up to Newcastle had gone well and her run there went well. She travelled well and jumped beautifully,” said Henderson.
“She just had a little bit of a bumpy passage from the second-last to the last, (but) I’d have settled for the dead-heat because my most pleasing thing was the way she ran and jumped – she jumped absolutely brilliantly, which is her hallmark.
“That’s what was missing when she went to Kempton last year. I just think her work has been very sweet, she’s in a good place this year. She had a good race at Newcastle and we’ve had time to freshen her up and start again.
“You wouldn’t want to see the Epatante that was at Kempton last year, I think she was uncomfortable before the race and she didn’t jump with her normal accuracy and speed. She was very fidgety before the race, but take nothing away from Silver Streak.
“I suspect with Not So Sleepy we should get a very strong pace. That won’t worry her. If we get no pace I think she’s got a gear.”
Not So Sleepy’s dead-heat was a first triumph at the highest level over jumps for trainer Hughie Morrison.
“It was nice to finally tick that box (of a top-level winner over jumps), but we have not had too many opportunities to win a Grade One,” he said.
“Marble Arch finishing second in the 2002 Champion Hurdle was very exciting, but to get that Grade One is a nice addition to the roster. At Cheltenham he was the second best of the British-trained horses in the Champion Hurdle when he finished fifth.
“He has probably improved two or three pounds since last spring, but he did deserve a win in a race like the Fighting Fifth.
“The nice thing about winning the Fighting Fifth was that it showed that we were not tilting at windmills in those Grade One races.”
Having looked beaten when not jumping the last well, Not So Sleepy showed admirable battling qualities to get back up and share the spoils.
Morrison added: “You go back to his Dee Stakes win at Chester in 2015 and you watch him put his head down that day after he was headed as well.
“He is not stupid as he works out when he can compete. If he can’t compete he just says, ‘it’s your turn today’.
“He is keen enough in his races, but it looks worse than it is as if it was that bad he would never have got home in half of those races.”
Alan King’s Tritonic is back in action at Kempton having won the Betfair Exchange Trophy at Ascot just last weekend.
Successful in the Grade Two Adonis Juvenile Hurdle at Kempton, the four-year-old disappointed in the Triumph Hurdle at the Festival and ran twice afterwards on the Flat.
This term he has rediscovered his form, however, and King is hopeful he has more to offer still.
“Tritonic put up a great performance at Ascot and, in doing so, showed how much he had been sharpened up mentally by his run at Cheltenham (Greatwood Hurdle),” the trainer said via his website.
“He actually pricked his ears between the last two flights, suggesting that there might still be a bit more in the tank.”
Also taking his chance is Jonjo O’Neill’s Soaring Glory, who was fourth of four in a Listed Hurdle at Newbury when last seen but won a handicap contest at the same level on his prior run in October.
Tom Lacey’s Glory And Fortune is broadly the outsider of the field and takes a significant step up in class after his recent runs in Grade Three and handicap company.