Nicky Henderson’s Champion Hurdle winner Epatante will face six rivals when she gets her new season under way in the Betfair Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle.
Saturday’s race is one Henderson regularly uses as a starting point for his best two-mile hurdler, with My Tent Or Yours and Buveur D’Air (twice) winning in recent years.
However, Buveur D’Air was beaten in the race 12 months ago when bidding for a hat-trick – during which he picked up an injury which has sidelined him ever since.
The beneficiary 12 months ago was Cornerstone Lad, trained by Micky Hammond – and he is back to defend his title, having won on the Flat last time out.
According to the sponsors, Epatante’s main rival is Alan King’s Sceau Royal – who arrives at the top of his game, having won the Welsh Champion Hurdle and the Elite at Wincanton already this season.
Also a useful chaser, Sceau Royal will love the prevailing good ground.
Evan Williams’ Silver Streak is another who arrives with the advantage of race-fitness over the favourite, having won a Listed event at Kempton last month for the second successive year.
Heading into Grade One company for the first time is Nicky Richards’ Ribble Valley. Always highly thought of, he oozed class when winning at Carlisle on his return.
Hughie Morrison’s Not So Sleepy is a smart dual-purpose performer, adding more strength in depth, while Iain Jardine’s Voix Du Reve completes the field.