Epatante and Not So Sleepy dead heat in thrilling Fighting Fifth finish

Defending champion Epatante and the mercurial talent that is No So Sleepy shared the honours after the judge called a dead-heat in the Betfair Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle.

Nicky Henderson’s 2020 Champion Hurdle heroine Epatante made a brilliant reappearance in the Gosforth Park feature 12 months ago, but subsequent defeats at Kempton, Cheltenham and Punchestown meant she returned to Gosforth Park with a point to prove.

So too did the Hughie Morrison-trained Not So Sleepy, who showed his worst side when jinking violently right and unseating his rider at the first flight in last year’s renewal, then running loose and carrying out the re-opposing Silver Streak at the second obstacle.

Having undergone back surgery during the summer, Epatante was the 11-8 favourite to get back on the winning trail and provide Henderson with a record seventh Fighting Fifth success under Aidan Coleman.

Not So Sleepy, meanwhile, was an 18-1 shot in the hands of Jonathan Burke off the back of finishing second on the Flat at Doncaster last month.

Epatante travelled with her customary zest for much of the two-mile journey and moved smoothly into contention from the home turn, but was made to fight for it by both Not So Sleepy and Sceau Royal.

To the naked eye, Henderson’s mare looked to have just got the better of Not So Sleepy in a driving finish passing the post, but the they could not be split in the photo.

Speaking from Newbury, Henderson said: “She has run a great race. From what I could see, her jumping was fantastic and that was her biggest weapon.

“That is what she had lost last year and she hurdled beautifully all the way and if she got up, we’d be grateful – we’ll take anything.

“It will be the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton next – no doubt about that.

“I know the plan. JP (McManus, owner) and I said Fighting Fifth and then Kempton, and then we’ll decide what we do after that. It is not going to stop me going to Kempton!”

Paddy Power trimmed Epatante to 10-1 from 14-1 to regain her Champion Hurdle crown at Cheltenham in March, while Not So Sleepy is a 50-1 shot.

Morrison was rightly proud of the performance of his stable star, saying: “What a horse. He won as a two-year-old on the Flat and here he is winning a Grade One coming into his 10th year.

Not So Sleepy (right) after the Fighting Fifth
Not So Sleepy (right) after the Fighting Fifth (Tim Goode/PA)

“We’ve trained him basically for this race since he ran in the Chester Cup (in May), where I felt he had a huge amount of weight.

“We wisely didn’t run him in the Cesarewitch or the November Handicap because I felt he had too much weight and great credit to all involved.

“He’s quite a challenge at home. My head lad rides him at home all the time and he actually went on holiday yesterday.

“This summer the horse has turned the corner actually and Johnny gave him a brilliant ride today.

“It’s my first Grade One National Hunt winner, so I think we’ll have a bit of a celebration.

“I don’t know where we’ll go next. Kempton at Christmas might be a bit quick.”

Henderson stands by decision to skip Tingle Creek date with Shishkin

Nicky Henderson has defended his decision not to run Shishkin in next weekend’s Betfair Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown.

The Grade One had been the nominated starting point for last season’s impressive Arkle winner, but Henderson announced on Wednesday that he was not entirely happy with his stable star.

Shishkin would have met the Willie Mullins-trained Chacun Pour Soi at Sandown, with the champion Irish trainer – who also has Energumene and Allaho among the entries – confirming his participation on Friday.

Henderson’s decision not to run at Sandown has attracted plenty of debate, but he insists Mullins’ potential running plans had no impact on his thinking, with Shishkin’s best interests uppermost in his mind.

“He is fit, but I would not say his gallop on Saturday was brilliant. I haven’t just been that bit happy,” he said.

“His tracheal wash on Monday was iffy but not wrong. He had two canters today. I just know he could be better than he is at the moment. It is not fitness – I’m just not happy with him. That’s our job.

“People can think what they like. I am just doing my job and looking after one very good horse to make sure he remains a very good horse. If I ran him next week, I would probably ruin him for life.

“I want to run in it, but if my horse tells me not to (I won’t). It is just as important as any race, but if I’m not happy with him, the horse comes first, surely. Anyone, with any common sense, who has ever known anything about a racehorse, will tell you that.

“I promise I am not running scared of Willie Mullins!”

Jonbon delivers in style on hurdling bow

Jonbon established himself as a serious horse for the future when powering to a six-length success in the Play Ladbrokes 5-A-Side On Football National Hunt Maiden Hurdle at Newbury.

Plenty was expected of the full brother to Douvan and the Nicky Henderson-trained five-year-old did not disappoint.

Aidan Coleman settled Jonbon (10-11 favourite) early, but it did not take long for his slick hurdling to pull him to the front and he barely got out of second gear with an authoritative performance to beat Good Risk At All with ease.

So impressed were Paddy Power that the bookmakers slashed Jonbon to 3-1 favourite from 6-1 for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.

Henderson said: “The point-to-points are amazing, because there are two-milers and slow horses who are very good. I had a horse called Get Real, who never got a yard over two miles and somehow, someone managed to hold him in a point-to-point.

“This is the same sort of thing. He is a full brother to Douvan, so it is not surprising he has plenty of boot. You see the benefit of a racecourse gallop – that is why he cantered around on his own. He was better today.

“He can get on his toes. I call him a fidget, but that’s why we get on quite well together. He doesn’t do anything wrong. He wants to be on his toes and he got a bit warm coming here, but it was great that it was Newbury, as it wasn’t too far to travel. But he will travel – he’ll have to.

“We will take it step by step and see where we want to go. From JP’s (McManus), Aidan’s and AP’s (McCoy) point of view, he was only in second gear.”

He went on: “We had to teach him to drop the bit today and he dropped it really nicely, considering there was no gallop. He only got in front because he jumped his way there.”

Stage Star made it two from two over hurdles and justified 2-7 favouritism, making virtually all the running in the Watch Racing Free Online at Ladbrokes Novices’ Hurdle.

Harry Cobden’s mount never looked in any trouble as he set a modest gallop in the extended two-and-a-half-mile event and then strode out nicely, despite a minor error at the penultimate flight, to score by seven and a half lengths.

Unanswered Prayers briefly threatened to challenge, before readily being burned off.

Stage Star was subsequently cut to 14-1 (from 25-1) with Coral for the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle.

With winning trainer Paul Nicholls absent, assistant Harry Derham was full of praise for the five-year-old son of Fame And Glory.

Stage Star jumps the last clear under Harry Cobden
Stage Star jumps the last clear under Harry Cobden (Adam Davy/PA)

He said: “He has done everything right today, did it as we thought he would and we will probably come back here for the Challow Hurdle in December.

“He obviously had very good bumper form and he was always going to improve for jumping hurdles, the size of him.

“It is just a nice route to go. When you have a high-class bumper horse like that, we always wanted to have a couple of runs to go to the Challow and he’s done it right, albeit against opposition that he should have beaten. But we’ll come back for the Challow and find out a bit more about him.

“I don’t think winter ground will bother him that much. I don’t think any of our horses want deep ground, but good horses generally cope with most things.”

Venetia Williams has always thought plenty of Fanion D’Estruval (2-1 favourite). She pitched him in better company last season and again on his seasonal bow when fourth in a Grade Two chase at Aintree.

Setting his sights a little lower this time, he scored with authority under Charlie Deutsch in the two-and-a-half-mile Get Your Ladbrokes £1 Free Bet Today Handicap Chase.

Williams said: “We threw him in at the deep end in Graded races last season and he was struggling. We have done a lot of work on his schooling and it is nice to bring him back. Top weight is fine, but this is a slightly lesser grade.

“It is lovely to see him win, and win going away. We don’t necessarily have to put him back in Graded company yet. He is still a young horse (aged six) and there is still more to come.”

Not Available jumps the last ahead of Solo
Not Available jumps the last ahead of Solo (Adam Davy/PA)

Not Available sprang something of a shock in landing the Ladbrokes Daily Odds Boosts Chase (Novices’ Limited Handicap) for the Fulke Walwyn Trophy.

The Matt Shepherd-trained six-year-old, who was a purchase out of Henry De Bromhead’s yard at the Doncaster Sales in September, was sent off a 14-1 chance, but belied those odds and showed plenty of determination under the trainer’s son, Stan, to defeat Solo by two and three-quarter lengths.

Matt Shepherd said: “That was super because, obviously, when you son rides your winner, it is about as good as it gets.

“The horse is a bit of a special character. He gives you no feel at home and doesn’t pick up the bridle in any shape or form, but I’m a great believer in that if a horse is slow at home, it does not mean to say they are not two-milers. I was convinced he was a two-miler and was convinced the better the race, the better he would run.

“I haven’t got a plan yet, but the better the race, the better he will run. We’ll probably celebrate – it’s going to be a messy weekend!”

The concluding three-mile Play Ladbrokes 1-2-Free On Football Handicap Hurdle produced the finish of the afternoon, with the Philip Hobbs-trained Dolphin Square (6-1) making it five wins from 12 runs over hurdles, getting the better of Flemcara and Eyeofthescorpion.

David Maxwell produced a power-packed finish to gain the spoils by a neck.

Nico de Boinville planning swift return after gallops fall

Nico de Boinville expects to be back riding early next week.

Nicky Henderson’s stable jockey suffered a schooling fall on Thursday morning and it was initially thought he had broken ribs.

However, De Boinville reports the injury is not as bad as first feared and while he will miss the big meeting at Newbury this weekend, he has already been back in the saddle on the gallops.

He told his Unibet blog: “As you are probably aware, I had a fall while schooling on Thursday morning.

“I obviously felt sore afterwards, but it was much better later in the day, so much so that I rode two bits of work this morning.

“I felt good, though I have decided to give this weekend a miss, but I expect to be back riding at the start of next week.”

Fighting Fifth Hurdle Trends

Sponsored by leading bookmaker Betfair, the Grade 1 Fighting Fifth hurdle is staged at Newcastle racecourse.

Having first been run in 1969 the contest is often seen as an early-season trial for the Champion Hurdle, with the Nicky Henderson-trained Punjabi (2008) and Buveur D'Air (2018) the last horses to win both races in the same season.

The 2017 and 2018 Champion Hurdle winner – Buveur d’Air – landed this race in 2017 before going onto Cheltenham glory again in March 2018, while he also took the prize in 2018 and was second in 2019. 12 months ago it was another Nicky Henderson/JP McManus runner that won the race as Epatante with ease and went onto finish third in the 2021 Champion Hurdle.

Here at GEEGEEZ, we are on hand as he looks back at past winners and gives you the key trends to look out for ahead of the 2021 renewal – this year run on Saturday 27th November.

Recent Fighting Fifth Hurdle Winners

2020 - EPATANTE (8/11 fav)
2019 – CORNERSTONE LAD (16/1)
2018 – BUVEUR D’AIR (11/8)
2017 – BUVEUR D’AIR (1/6 fav)
2016 – IRVING (6/1)
2015 – IDENTITY THIEF (6/1)
2014 – IRVING (6/4 fav)
2013 – MY TENT OR YOURS (8/11 fav)
2011 – OVERTURN (7/4)
2010 – PEDDLERS CROSS (9/4)
2009 – GO NATIVE (25/1)
2008 – PUNJABI (8/11 fav)
2007 – HARCHIBALD (4/1)
2006 – STRAW BEAR (Evs fav)
2005 – ARCALIS (9/4 fav)
2004 – HARCHIBALD (9/4 jfav)
2003 – THE FRENCH FURZE (25/1)
2002 – INTERSKY FALCON (11/10 fav)

Fighting Fifth Hurdle Betting Trends & Stats

19/19 – Won a hurdles race over at least 2m before
17/19 – Won at least a Grade 2 hurdle before
17/19 – Finished in the first two in their latest race
16/19 – Raced in the Champion Hurdle later that same season
16/19 – Won at least 4 times over hurdles before
15/19 – Placed favourites
14/19 – Officially rated 151 or higher
13/19 – Won their last race
11/19 – Ran within the last 6 weeks
11/19 – Placed in the top 6 in the Champion Hurdle later that season
9/19 – Favourites that won (1 joint)
6/19 – Won by an Irish bred horse
5/19 – Raced over hurdles at Newcastle before
5/19 - Trained by Nicky Henderson (5 of last 13)
4/19 – Won by an Irish based yard
3/19 – Won by a previous winner of the race
2/19 - Trained by Paul Nicholls (2 of last 7)
2/19 – Won the Champion Hurdle later that same season (2008 Punjabi, 2018 Buveur d’Air)
The average winning SP in the last 19 runnings is 5/1

Note: The 2008 renewal was staged at Wetherby, and the 2010 race at Newbury





Nico de Boinville facing injury absence after gallops fall

Nico de Boinville faces a spell on the sidelines and will miss the ride aboard the exciting Jonbon at Newbury on Friday after suffering a fall at Nicky Henderson’s Seven Barrows yard on Thursday morning.

The rider was due to partner the brother of Douvan in the Play Ladbrokes 5-A-Side On Football “National Hunt” Maiden Hurdle, but was taken to hospital with suspected broken ribs.

Aidan Coleman will now partner the JP McManus-owned five-year-old in the extended two-mile contest.

Henderson gave an update at lunchtime on Thursday and was still waiting to hear the severity of De Boinville’s injuries.

Henderson said: “Unfortunately, horses have falls when they are jumping fences.

“We have just had a message to say that Nico has been into the hospital, but he has now left that hospital. Nico has been in there since half past eight and still not been seen. He has given up waiting.

“We are pretty sure he has broken ribs. He went to Swindon Hospital and hasn’t been seen for almost four hours. If you are walking, I’m afraid that is what happens – you are better off going in there and lying down on the floor!

“It is cruel before a weekend like this, which is pretty important.”

Jonbon will now be ridden by Aidan Coleman on Friday
Jonbon will now be ridden by Aidan Coleman on Friday (Adam Davy/PA)

Henderson added: “I’m afraid it happens. The timing is horrible, and we are just going to have to juggle everything around.

“Aidan Coleman will ride Jonbon in the two-mile maiden hurdle. James Bowen will ride Mister Coffey in the novice handicap chase and Daryl Jacob will be on Cascova in that, while James will also be on Morning Vicar in the handicap chase and On The Blindside in the Long Distance Hurdle. He also takes over on Kincardine in the novice hurdle.

“James is riding extremely well and deserves his chance, but even he would agree, he would not want that chance under these circumstances.”

Epatante primed for Fighting Fifth defence

Nicky Henderson is looking forward to taking the wraps off Epatante in the Betfair Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle on Saturday.

The Seven Barrows trainer felt the 2020 Champion Hurdle winner was below her best after lifting this prize 12 months ago.

However, the seven-year-old has been giving him the right signs since having back surgery during the summer.

“We’re all set to go. We’ve been very happy. Her work’s been good, she had a nice away day at Newbury last week. She enjoyed it and worked very well,” Henderson told Sky Sports Racing.

“I think she’s in good form but I’ve got to say she was impressive beating Sceau Royal last year and he was impressive at Wincanton the other day, so I don’t think it’s going to be as straight forward this time.

“The one thing she was doing there last year was her jumping. She has always been very slick, very quick and accurate. After that, and from Kempton onwards, that was missing and consequently she has had some back surgery during the summer and we just tried to tinker with a few things as you would do if you felt things had gone wrong.”

Henderson went on: “You can’t think she was at her best at Kempton in the Christmas Hurdle which is normally her sort of race, ground and track. And then at Cheltenham (in the Champion Hurdle), she ran her race to a degree but Honeysuckle was far too good for her.

“Honeysuckle is very good but you can’t help but feel we were sub par, so we’ll try to get back to that and the first part of it is to go to the Fighting Fifth.

“Hopefully, that will take us to the Christmas Hurdle and then you have to start worrying about Honeysuckle again.”

Jonbon, makes his eagerly-awaited hurdles debut at Newbury on Friday
Jonbon, makes his eagerly-awaited hurdles debut at Newbury on Friday (Adam Davy/PA)

Jonbon, a full brother to multiple Grade On winner Douvan, makes his eagerly-awaited debut over the smaller obstacles in the Play Ladbrokes 5-A-Side On Football ‘National Hunt’ Maiden Hurdle on Friday.

A point-to-point winner, the five-year-old won a bumper at Newbury in March and had a solo spin there last week.

“He’s unaware of this pressure but I don’t quite know how it’s got to this stage,” said Henderson.

“This is a horse that has won a point-to-to point and a bumper and seems to be getting the headlines for all the wrong reasons, but we took him to Newbury the other day. He got a bit warm because we had to wait a bit but it did him good. We let him do a solo spin round Newbury.

“When he won at Newbury racing was under Covid restrictions, so there were probably more people there on the press day than the day he won his bumper.

Trainer Nicky Henderson
Trainer Nicky Henderson (Adam Davy/PA)

“Unfortunately his race was scheduled to be the first race but has been moved to the third as I think they want him on television which puts more pressure on him, on me and everybody else.”

Henderson is looking forward to giving Kincardine his jumping debut in the Watch Racing Free Online At Ladbrokes Novices’ Hurdle on the same card.

The four-year-old, owned and bred by The Queen, won a Southwell bumper in May on his only start so far.

“I like him a lot. I did take him out of Ascot last Friday. I just thought the ground was a bit quick underneath. I’m fairly confident it’ll be all right,” he said.

“It looks quite a good race, it’s competitive. He’s a lovely big Kayf Tara horse. He’s a home-bred of The Queen’s and he’s one of the nicest we’ve had for a very long time from the Royal studs. He needs minding a little bit but he is a lovely, big horse.”

Shishkin ruled out of Tingle Creek return

Shishkin has been ruled out of next week’s Betfair Tingle Creek by trainer Nicky Henderson.

The unbeaten chaser was due to make his seasonal reappearance in the Sandown Grade One, but Henderson does not feel he is quite yet at concert pitch.

As a result he will now head for the Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton over Christmas instead.

“I’ve just spoken to (owner) Joe Donnelly and we’ve sadly and reluctantly decided that Shishkin is not going to run in the Tingle Creek,” said Henderson.

“There’s nothing wrong with him, but I just haven’t got there. He worked this morning and he just isn’t sparky at the moment. I think I just got behind the ball a little bit.

“We did his wind in the autumn which wasn’t a problem, but it just put us behind the ball and Nico (de Boinville, jockey) and I both feel he’s not quite on his A game.

“It really is a thin line. We’ve scoped him and everything and there’s nothing wrong, but you can’t afford to go into this (at) anything bar 100 per cent.”

Henderson told PA: “Joe is a fantastic man and he said to do whatever is best for the horse and that is definitely what we’re doing.

“Sadly he won’t be there and this race is sorted of ill-fated for us at the moment.

“We’ll go to Kempton now, I imagine. He looks magnificent, he’s just missing maybe five per cent that you need to have and can’t go without.

“We all know that the best thing for this horse is to give him a chance, so sadly he won’t be there but he’ll be around for Christmas.”

Monmiral ‘more likely’ to run at Newbury than in Fighting Fifth

Paul Nicholls is unlikely to run Monmiral in the Betfair Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle on Saturday, with a dry forecast ahead.

Unbeaten in four starts for the Ditcheat handler, the four-year-old was last seen landing the Grade One Doom Bar Anniversary 4-Y-O Juvenile Hurdle at Aintree in April.

However, Nicholls is taking a watching brief as the French-bred son of Saint Des Saints – who is co-owned by Sir Alex Ferguson – would prefer a little more give underfoot and could head to Newbury for the Listed Ladbrokes Committed To Safer Gambling Intermediate Hurdle at Newbury instead.

Nicholls said: “Monmiral is entered in both races, but I will see what the ground is and what the weather forecast does.

“I won’t run him on quick ground at Newcastle. If the ground is good to soft at Newbury, I will probably run him there. Without looking, it is a job to say. But at this point in time, I would say he is more likely to go to Newbury than Newcastle.”

Nicholls is looking forward to another big weekend, with bet365 Gold Cup beaten favourite Enrilo set to make his seasonal reappearance in the Ladbrokes Trophy Chase.

Nicholls said: “Enrilo definitely runs in the Ladbrokes Trophy. He is in good form and this is a good starting point, but we have taken the decision not to declare Next Destination.”

Nicky Henderson with Epatante at Seven Barrows
Nicky Henderson with Epatante at Seven Barrows (David Davies/PA)

A total of seven horses stood their ground for Newcastle at the confirmation stage, headed by Epatante.

Winner of the 2020 Champion Hurdle, the Nicky Henderson-trained mare made her reappearance in the Gosforth Park feature 12 months ago, recording a stylish success over Sceau Royal.

The Alan King-trained Sceau Royal was last seen winning the Elite Hurdle at Wincanton and could reoppose.

Evan Williams’ Silver Streak was unceremoniously carried out by Not So Sleepy last year, but enjoyed a significant change in fortunes when subsequently beating Epatante in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton on Boxing Day.

Silver Streak and the Hughie Morrison-trained Not So Sleepy are in the field once again.

Elite Hurdle third Belfast Banter (Peter Fahey) is in line to renew rivalry with Sceau Royal, with Voix Du Reve (Iain Jardine) completing the list.

Epatante heads Fighting Fifth septet

Epatante will face a maximum of six rivals when she defends her Betfair Fighting Fifth Hurdle crown at Newcastle on Saturday.

Winner of the 2020 Champion Hurdle, the Nicky Henderson-trained mare made her reappearance in the Gosforth Park feature 12 months ago, recording a stylish success over Sceau Royal.

The Alan King-trained Sceau Royal was last seen winning the Elite Hurdle at Wincanton and could reoppose.

Evan Williams’ Silver Streak was unceremoniously carried out by Not So Sleepy last year, but enjoyed a significant change in fortunes when subsequently beating Epatante in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton on Boxing Day.

Silver Streak and the Hughie Morrison-trained Not So Sleepy are in the field once again, and plenty of attention will surround Paul Nicholls’ Monmiral. The latter was a Grade One winner as a novice at the Aintree Grand National meeting and is co-owned by Sir Alex Ferguson.

Elite Hurdle third Belfast Banter (Peter Fahey) is in line to renew rivalry with Sceau Royal, with Voix Du Reve (Iain Jardine) completing the list at the confirmation stage.

Buzz light years in front at Ascot

Buzz delighted the Ascot crowd as he easily accounted for a classy field in the Coral Hurdle.

Sent off the even-money favourite, the Nicky Henderson-trained Buzz was last seen winning the Cesarewitch on the Flat at Newmarket last month and he made a seamless switch back to the winter game in this Grade Two event.

Defending champion Song For Someone set out to make all, bowling along nicely in front for Aidan Coleman as Nico de Boinville kept his mount under wraps for most of the extended two-mile-three-furlong trip.

Buzz was clearly travelling best of all at the top of the straight and while his rivals were hard at work after jumping two out, he was pulling double in the hands of De Boinville.

The seven-year-old needed only the slightest of encouragement to push on and win by three and a half lengths from the gutsy Song For Someone, who was conceding 6lb to the winner.

Guard Your Dreams kept on for third, with Goshen only fourth.

Henderson said: “His jumping was amazing, that was Champion Hurdle-standard jumping.

“He was so quick from the get go, we always knew there was going to be a pretty strong gallop – Goshen didn’t do quite what we expected him to do, but even so they went a good gallop. He never missed a jump.

“I think we’ve got to try going up (in trip). Nobody knows if he’ll stay, all we know is he loves soft ground so we’re not going to be worried about that. He’s perfectly happy on this, which is probably the same as what Newmarket was.”

Betfair cut Buzz to 8-1 for the Stayers’ Hurdle, and the Seven Barrows trainer added: “The idea was always to try him at three, you can always come back.

“I think if you never ask the question…we’ll see what Nico says, he might say ‘that’s madness!’, but I can’t see him coming back and being a two-mile Champion Hurdler.”

There was extra joy for connections, as Buzz runs in the colours of the Thurloe For Royal Marsden Cancer Charity, with 25 per cent of the share of the horse’s prize-money for the owners donated to the charity.

James Stafford of Thurloe Thoroughbreds said: “On Tuesday we will hand over a cheque for £54,000, hopefully racing has done some good for the cancer charity.”

Double delight for Henderson and De Boinville at Ascot

Nicky Henderson and Nico de Boinville enjoyed an Ascot double as Captain Morgs and Tweed Skirt obliged to send the yard into a big weekend of racing in good form.

Captain Morgs capitalised on his course and distance form to take the two-mile Garden For All Seasons Handicap Hurdle as the 7-4 favourite, with De Boinville taking full advantage of the final-fence error made by Jonjo O’Neill’s runner-up Garry Clermont.

As O’Neill’s bay jinked left at the last obstacle, Captain Morgs instantly surged forward to fill the gap and then kept on to triumph by three-quarters of a length.

“He’s been in very good form and we wanted to come back to two (miles),” said Henderson, whose Cesarewitch winner Buzz is favourite for the Coral Hurdle on day two of the Ascot meeting.

“A very strong run two like that, he finished well and he’s won it nicely.

“It was a great ride though, he’s crept round the inner there and he was in a bit of trouble turning in but he sat and waited and just let the horse pick himself up – and he did.”

Of his race-winning manoeuvre at the last, De Boinville said: “You can call it good fortune and a bit of luck.

“I was coming with a wet sail and the second horse just had a look at the last and made a mistake.

“I got a really nice, clean jump at the last, he was just getting going from the second-last to the last and he’s run all the way to the line.”

Tweed Skirt kick-started a double for Nicky Henderson and Nico de Boinville
Tweed Skirt kick-started a double for Nicky Henderson and Nico de Boinville (Simon Marper/PA)

The Henderson-De Boinville axis was also to the fore in the Ascot Fan Pass “Introductory” Hurdle as Tweed Skirt got the better of Olly Murphy’s 2-7 favourite Go Dante.

The pair faced only one rival with Mark Gillard’s Blueblood making up a small field of three, and it was Henderson’s filly who took the initiative when making all to prevail by two and a half lengths at 11-4.

Murphy was not without a winner on the card, however, as Doctor Ken obliged as the 4-7 favourite in the Ascot Shop “National Hunt” Maiden Hurdle.

A bumper winner who was third in respectable company on his hurdling debut, the gelding was a tough half-length victor under Aidan Coleman and is a horse Murphy regards as a promising future chasing prospect.

“He’s a big, raw individual that will improve from getting a tow into a race, but he’s a horse we’ve always liked. He’ll be a lovely horse next year so whatever he does this year will be a bonus,” he said.

“He’s got a lovely way of going, he races in the correct way and he’ll make a lovely chaser next year and acquit himself well over hurdles this year.”

He added: “There was no pace at all so there was no point in dropping him in. It’s a good start, he’s a lovely horse and he’s got a great mind on him. It wouldn’t bother me stepping up in class and it certainly wouldn’t bother him, I will half-mind him, but he may have a run in a good race somewhere.

“I love this lad, it took him three goes to win a bumper, but you can see why looking at him. He’s a horse that’s going to win a lot of races.”

Charlie Deutsch and Pink Legend
Charlie Deutsch and Pink Legend (Simon Marper/PA)

Venetia Williams and Charlie Deutsch were another trainer-jockey combination to score twice at Ascot as Pink Legend took the most valuable contest of the day, the Events At Ascot Handicap Chase.

Starting at 15-2, the mare reproduced the form that saw her land a Listed race at Cheltenham last time out and seemed to stick to the task at hand when the cheekpieces previously used were removed.

“She was jumping sufficiently quickly, I thought I’d sit upsides Nico (de Boinville, Lust For Glory) as he was travelling well,” Deutsch said.

“I gave her a squeeze coming off the bend and she’s picked up really nicely, I’m very pleased with her.

“She had them on (cheekpieces) at Cheltenham last time and it seemed to work, she was looking around a lot in her races last year.

“Today she seemed to be going sweetly and wanted to get on with it, I’m glad we had left the cheekpieces off really.”

Kapga De Lily (right) is being aimed at a good prize
Kapga De Lily (right) is being aimed at a good prize (Simon Marper/PA)

Williams and Deutsch then struck again with another mare in the Not Forgotten Handicap Chase, this time the notably consistent chestnut Kapga De Lily.

The eight-year-old has not been seen since April but was a five-times winner last season and seemed to happily pick up where she left off with a genuine one-and-a-half-length success at 13-2.

Williams said: “It’s lovely to come here to Ascot and have two winners, particularly as everybody says it’s not my ground!

“In fairness to Kapga De Lily she ran on good round at Haydock at the end of last season so I knew she’d operate on it.

“We started her later because we’ve still got the final of the mares’ Hereford series (Hereford Mares’ Chase Series), we’ve qualified her for that as she won it last year.

“The ratings are limited and after she won it last year we felt she only had one more chance to qualify – the plan is still to run there.”

Shishkin ready to roll in Tingle Creek at Sandown

Shishkin is set to put his unbeaten record over fences on the line in the Betfair Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown on December 4.

The seven-year-old is Nicky Henderson’s sole representative among 14 entries for the Grade Two over two miles.

Henderson reports last season’s Arkle Trophy and Maghull Novices’ Chase scorer to be on course for the pre-Christmas feature.

“He’s going straight for the Tingle Creek. The two-mile division is very hot this season and let’s see what Willie (Mullins) throws at us,” said the Seven Barrows handler.

“He has a strong hand and will be queuing up to take us on. Shishkin is not the flashiest horse at home, he’s just very professional with a good attitude.”

Henderson told Racing TV: “It’s going to be an early-season scorcher, isn’t it?

“Dan (Skelton) is saying his horse (Nube Negra) is going to go there and he was very impressive at Cheltenham – and don’t forget, he actually beat Altior at Kempton last year.

“We knew before the season started this was going to be a hot division this year and Willie holds a lot of the cards.

“I was hoping we might get a free run until after Christmas, but I can see Willie’s point – he’s got two or three to play with and is going to have to come here with something, otherwise he’ll run out of race in Ireland.

“Shishkin grew a lot during the summer. He’s now big, strong and fully matured – he’s ready to roll.”

Mullins has entered three of his big guns – Energumene and Allaho and Chacun Pour Soi – and is likely to send over one from his Irish base as he wants to split them between the Hilly Way, Tingle Creek and John Durkan which take place on same weekend.

Henry de Bromhead’s Captain Guinness, winner of a Grade Three chase at Naas earlier this month, is a fourth Irish entry while Nube Negra, who made a successful seasonal debut in the Shloer Chase at Cheltenham, is in the mix for Skelton.

Paul Nicholls, who has won the race a record 11 times, has four possibles including last year’s victor Politologue. His others are Greaneteen, Hitman and Rouge Vif. The list is completed by Cheddleton, Defi Du Seuil, First Flow and Paint The Dream.

Epatante on course for Fighting Fifth return

Nicky Henderson is looking forward to running Epatante in the Betfair Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle after giving her a spin at the Ladbrokes Winter Festival gallops morning at Newbury.

Epatante took the Grade One prize at the Gosforth Park course last year and will be aiming to get back on track after losing her Champion Hurdle crown to Honeysuckle in March.

Henderson took a team of five to the Berkshire track for some much-needed work on turf which he has been unable to do at home due to the dry autumn.

“Newbury have given us some beautiful ground to work on and Keith Ottesen (clerk of the course) has done a great job. Just to be able to come here, the timing is perfect, and apart from Epatante who goes to Newcastle, the rest that have worked this morning will be here the weekend after next,” said the Seven Barrows handler.

“It’s probably our favourite weekend as it’s local. I was born just over the hill and it’s always been our home track.

“We’ve boxed them up and brought them on a 20-minute trip down the road, and we couldn’t have gone on the grass at home. It’s so good to get them on a natural surface and that was beautiful grass.”

On Epatante’s work, Henderson said: “She was great. She’s been working very well but that will be her last bit ahead of Newcastle. Last season we found out a few things about her and her back was a pretty constant problem.

“Today I expected her to gallop all over the stayers, but Mister Coffey is a very good horse and those two pulled clear. In the last week she’s got the buzz back and I like the way she put her head down and really worked away.

“Her jumping said something last season, as she was brilliant at Newcastle but then it fell apart. I intentionally haven’t schooled her. She will need a school but we need rain.”

Henderson is to give Jonbon, a full-brother to Douvan, his hurdling debut at Newbury on Friday week. He went solo under Nico de Boinville and was quite keen after getting warm in the paddock.

“The intention is to bring him here on the Friday. When he won his bumper here in the spring there were possibly less people here than there are today. He’s had a lovely time and enjoyed himself. He’s a natural fidget which is why we let him work on his own,” he said.

Henderson gave an update on Champ, who is on course to have his first run since being pulled up in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, in the Many Clouds Chase at Aintree on December 4.

“He worked for Nico this morning and he’s going to Aintree for the Many Clouds. He couldn’t get off the ground in the Gold Cup and has had back surgery. I fear he did too much when he came here for the trial. He was like a gazelle and must have hurt himself with his sheer exuberance,” said Henderson.

“Happily he’s moving very well now and as he has to go left handed, the only options were the Betfair (at Haydock) and the Many Clouds. We’ve decided to go to Aintree.”

Doddiethegreat romps to victory on hurdling debut

Doddiethegreat made an impressive start to the campaign as he cantered home by 22 lengths in the Watch RacingTV With Free Trial Now Novices’ Hurdle at Kempton.

Trained by Nicky Henderson, the five-year-old runs in the Honeysuckle colours of owner Kenny Alexander.

He is named after Scottish rugby union great Doddie Weir, who is suffering from motor neurone disease and has set up his own charity to help others in the same situation.

The My Name’5 Doddie Foundation aims to raise funds to aid research into MND, and Alexander has donated everything Doddiethegreat earns to the charity – adding just over £4,000 to the pot when he triumphed as the 1-3 favourite in the hands of Nico de Boinville on his hurdling debut.

The Nicky Henderson-trained runner was a bit keen in the early stages and showed his inexperience on what was just his third outing, but nevertheless his performance impressed Alexander’s racing manager Peter Molony.

“We were very pleased with the performance considering he pulled so hard – he was very fresh,” he said.

“He’s obviously got a pretty serious engine and it’s great for Doddie Weir’s foundation.

“Kenny has only met Doddie once, but he was very impressed when he met him, so he decided to do this.”

Molony reported Doddiethegreat to have sustained a cut during the race, but is hoping for a swift recovery.

He added: “We have one slight worry as the horse came back with quite a nasty cut. Hopefully he’ll be fine.

“He’s very exciting. I would think in a more strongly-run race he’ll jump better and settle better.

“Nicky has been very positive about him since he came back from his summer break, so fingers crossed the cut won’t be too bad and he’ll be OK.”