Epatante impressed when making a winning seasonal debut in a dramatic renewal of the Betfair Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle.
Last season’s Champion Hurdle heroine swept to victory over Sceau Royal, taking trainer Nicky Henderson’s record tally in the race to six.
However, chaos reigned in the early stages of the Grade One contest, thanks to the antics of Not So Sleepy.
Hughie Morrison’s enigmatic performer led from the start, but was not keen on co-operating and deposited jockey Paddy Brennan on the jumping side of the first hurdle.
If that was not enough, he ran loose and went to avoid the second flight and, in doing so, took Silver Streak out of the contest.
That left Sceau Royal at the front of the four remaining horses and Alan King’s charge led to the final flight, but Aidan Coleman was sitting pretty on Epatante.
The 8-11 favourite cleared the last and soared past Sceau Royal on the run to the line to win by four and a quarter lengths.
Henderson, speaking at Newbury, said: “It is a relief as much as anything. It shows there was no fluke about everything she did last season. I thought she was great.
“She is a proper hurdler – just quick, fast and slick. The great thing about her is she will go to sleep and you can press a button.
“She will go to the Christmas Hurdle almost certainly. That’s why this fits in better than the International (Hurdle at Cheltenham next month). I was delighted to see her do that and the gears worked.
“It was a messy race, Sceau Royal is not a bad horse and you could not ask for more. He (Sceau Royal) had race fitness, but he is a good horse. From our point of view, it was ideal. She will come on for it, but she has been here (Newbury) for a racecourse gallop and that brings her into Christmas nicely.
“I don’t think she has done anything at home that tells me she is better than last year. She has just been in good form all the way through and had a trouble-free run.
“She had a super summer and came in looking fantastic from Martinstown (owner JP McManus’ stud) which makes my job easier. It is just nice to see something quicken up like that.
“Even last year there was a question of does she go round Cheltenham as she goes round Flat tracks and has speed, but she has proven she can do it round Cheltenham.”
Coleman was impressed with Epatante’s performance in what was an eventful race.
He said: “Fair play to Sceau Royal, he must be a very genuine horse because Not So Sleepy was causing havoc.
“It was a very strange race after we’d jumped two hurdles given what happened and I feel sorry for poor old Silver Streak.
“Epatante was very professional, she won really well and I was delighted with her, she was very good.
“She showed plenty of speed, but she was a short-priced favourite and a Champion Hurdle winner, so she was entitled to do that to be fair. I was very happy – and very happy to get back on her.”
Sceau Royal’s rider Daryl Jacob was pleased with his mount and said: “He ran a super race, considering what happened early on, I’m delighted with him.”
Trainer Evan Williams said of the early incident which took out Silver Streak: “That’s life. The jockey’s fine and the horse is fine, which is all that matters.”
Sponsors Betfair refunded all bets on Not So Sleepy and Silver Streak and then cut Epatante to 2-1 favourite from 3-1 to defend her crown in March.
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