Henderson duo added to Mares’ Hurdle field

Nicky Henderson has supplemented Epatante and Theatre Glory to take on Honeysuckle in a fascinating renewal of the Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle on the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival.

Henry de Bromhead’s Honeysuckle beat Benie Des Dieux in an epic running of the Grade One contest in 2020 before going on to claim back-to-back victories against the boys in the Champion Hurdle.

But having suffered defeat for the first time in her bid for a fourth Hatton’s Grace in December, and proved no match for State Man in last month’s Irish Champion Hurdle, the nine-year-old is set to go back against her own sex in an attempt to end her career with a fourth Festival success.

Like Honeysuckle, the 2020 Champion Hurdle heroine Epatante retains a entry in this year’s Champion following Wednesday’s confirmation stage.

Your first 30 days for just £1

However, she has proved no match for stablemate and red-hot Champion Hurdle favourite Constitution Hill in either the Fighting Fifth or the Christmas Hurdle this season and, as expected, she has been added to the Mares’ Hurdle field at a cost of £4,599 following an impressive recent victory at Doncaster.

Connections of Theatre Glory have also stumped up the same figure following her runaway success in a Listed event at Warwick on her latest outing.

Henderson has a potential third string to his bow in the form of last year’s winner Marie’s Rock, but she also has the option of stepping up in trip for the Stayers’ Hurdle two days later.

Love Envoi is a leading contender for Harry Fry, while Willie Mullins has whittled his Mares’ Hurdle team down to Brandy Love, Echoes In Rain and Shewearsitwell.

Midnight Ginger (Andrew Martin) and Queens Brook (Gordon Elliott) are the other hopefuls.

Facile Vega heads the betting for the Supreme Novices' Hurdle
Facile Vega heads the betting for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle (Donall Farmer/PA)

Twenty horses have stood their ground for the traditional Festival curtain-raiser – the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.

Ante-post favourite Facile Vega heads a seven-strong Mullins squad that also includes Il Etait Temps, Impaire Et Passe and Gaelic Warrior, although several have alternative engagements during the week.

Backers of Barry Connell’s Marine Nationale and the Joseph O’Brien-trained High Definition will pleased to see that pair also remain in the mix.

El Fabiolo and Jonbon are the top two in the betting for the Sporting Life Arkle Challenge Trophy, for which a total of 12 horses are still entered.

Mullins-trained Irish Arkle winner El Fabiolo could be joined by a trio of stablemates in Dysart Dynamo, Ha d’Or and Saint Roi, while Henderson’s Jonbon is very much the pick of the home team.

Fanion D’Estruval heads 37 in the mix for the Ultima Handicap Chase, with Lucinda Russell excited to saddle the defending champion Corach Rambler.

The nine-year-old is only 6lb higher in the weights than when striking Festival gold 12 months ago and has been kept fresh since finishing fourth in the Coral Gold Cup at Newbury in November.

“Corach has Scu (Peter Scudamore, trainer’s partner) around his little finger,” said the trainer.

Try Tix for Better Tote Returns

“He’s great. He’s had plenty of work. Although he hasn’t run since Newbury, we’ve given him a racecourse gallop and I’m quite excited about taking him back to the Ultima.

“I know he’s 6lb higher, but he seems in great form. He’s light enough, he’s strong enough and I’m looking forward to the day with him.

“I loved his run in the Coral Gold Cup. All we wanted was to get a good run and that was going to give us an idea about what we were going to do for the rest of the year, but he ran above my expectations.”

The well-fancied pair of Tekao and Byker are among 37 juveniles going forward for the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle, but recent Adonis Hurdle winner Nusret is a notable absentee.

The last of seven races on day one is the Wellchild National Hunt Challenge Cup Amateur Jockeys’ Novices’ Chase. Gaillard Du Mesnil is a hot favourite for the Mullins team and will face a maximum of 12 rivals, including two fellow Closutton inmates in Ramillies and Tenzing.

Other Recent Posts by This Author:

Try Tix for Better Tote Returns

Your first 30 days for just £1