Epatante regained her Ladbrokes Christmas Hurdle crown in style as she came home clear in the Kempton Grade One.
Nicky Henderson’s charge landed the prize in 2019 before going on to Champion Hurdle glory the following spring, but she suffered a shock defeat at the hands of Silver Streak last term and could finish only third at Cheltenham in March.
The mare underwent back surgery over the summer and having dead-heated with the reopposing Not So Sleepy in the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle last month, she made sure of outright victory here under Nico de Boinville.
Epatante (4-5 favourite) stepped up to challenge Not So Sleepy with three to jump and the result hardly looked in doubt from that point onwards.
She just had to gallop out to the line, prevailing by two and a quarter lengths from staying-on 28-1 shot Glory And Fortune.
Henderson was delighted to see Epatante back on form.
He said: “She is quick and all about speed. We expected to get a lead a lot longer than we did, but when she’s on her A-game and jumping like that, why stop her?
“It’s the first time Nico has ridden her and he did the right thing. Not So Sleepy might have been a bit like that today and her jumping was taking her to the front, so let her stride on.
“What you could see there is her jumping is back together again – she’s so slick through the air. I think that (back operation) has changed the game quite significantly.”
Paddy Power shortened Epatante to 8-1 from 10s for the Champion Hurdle and while Henderson admits his mare may ultimately end up at Cheltenham, he thinks connections have difficult decisions to make.
He added: “We set out at the beginning of the year with two goals – the Fighting Fifth and the Christmas Hurdle. Those were her two Champion Hurdles, if you like – and we’ve got one and a half out of two!
“What happens next, we’ll have to see. We’ve got difficult days ahead and difficult decisions to make. She’s still a very good mare, but so is Honeysuckle.
“That was a Champion Hurdle performance today. It’s another bridge when you get there, but I suspect that’s where we’re going to finish up.”