Hot favourite Epatante could finish only third as her stablemate Marie’s Rock stole the show in the Coolmore Kew Gardens Irish EBF Mares Champion Hurdle at Punchestown.
Runner-up to the brilliant Honeysuckle in the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham before going one better Aintree, Epatante was the 4-6 favourite to secure her seventh Grade One victory in County Kildare.
Marie’s Rock, also trained at Seven Barrows by Nicky Henderson, was sent off at 10-1 to supplement her victory in the Mares’ Hurdle at Prestbury Park in March.
As is her wont, the Willie Mullins-trained Stormy Ireland took the field along for much of the two-and-a-half-mile contest – but she had the Henderson duo on her tail rounding the home turn.
And while Epatante could not get by the gritty front-runner after the final flight, Marie’s Rock responded to Nico de Boinville’s every call to get up and score by a length and a quarter.
“We love coming here. We had to throw two at it to win it and Stormy Ireland looked like she had got away,” said Henderson.
“Marie’s Rock is funny but she’s tough and she’s done it all year to be fair, so has Epatante. They’ve both had fantastic seasons.
“She is hardy and she’s found her feet this year in no uncertain terms. I thought she was very good two years ago, where she got to last year I’ve no idea. I lost her completely but luckily she’s come back to talk to me!
“She’s got plenty of pace and she stays obviously. Put those two together, and a lot of ability, and you are in quite a strong place.”
He added: “It was a good solid gallop and I thought they set out to test Epatante’s stamina and that probably helped Marie’s Rock because she does stay really well.
“Epatante has been on the go for a long time, since the Fighting Fifth, and she’s had a great season, winning three Grade Ones. This mare has now won two.
“It was a smaller team than we tend to be here with. We would have loved to have brought Constitution Hill but it wasn’t the right thing to do. Maybe we’ll all meet up again next year and sort it all out then.”