Trainer Nicky Henderson has a tremendous record in the Christmas Hurdle and Epatante looks decent value to further enhance it with victory in this year’s renewal of the 2m Grade 1 contest at Kempton on Boxing Day (14:30).
The Seven Barrows handler has won the race a record eight times courtesy of Geos (2000), Landing Light (2001), Binocular (2010 and 2011), Darlan (2012), My Tent Or Yours (2013), Buveur D’Air (2017) and Verdana Blue (2018).
In Epatante, he has a daughter of No Risk At All who had some smart form in France and, after being bought by leading Irish owner JP McManus, was ultra-impressive in winning her first two starts last season.
The first of those came over the Christmas Hurdle course and distance 13 months ago where Epatante travelled ominously well throughout, before quickening clear on the run-in to easily beat Ey Up Rocky by 3 1/2 lengths.
Epatante then registered a facile 3 1/2 lengths success at Exeter where, despite racing very keenly, she won hard-held.
That taking success saw her sent off a heavily backed 15/8 favourite for the Grade 2 Dawn Run Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.
Although she failed to live up to expectations in finishing a 9 3/4 lengths ninth of 22 to Eglantine Du Seuil, Epatante shaped much better than the bare result suggests.
She was making stealthy headway when an error four from home cost her valuable ground and momentum at a crucial stage.
Epatante then recovered well to chase the leaders and hold every chance two out, before staying on at one pace after the last.
Impressive in Intermediate Hurdle
Inexperience appeared to be her undoing on that day. Epatante appealed as the type to come into her own this season now strengthened up, however.
That view was confirmed when Epatante made a winning return to action in the Listed 2m Intermediate Hurdle – better known as the Gerry Feilden – during the Winter Carnival at Newbury last month.
The five-year-old led home a one-two-three for Henderson’s stable. After racing in touch, Aidan Coleman brought the 3/1 favourite through to challenge going well three from home.
Epatante then put in a slightly awkward jump when challenging at the second last, but was quickly back on the bridle approaching the final flight.
Stablemate French Crusader led at that point and looked to be going equally as well, but Epatante soon got on top on the run-in and showed a very smart turn of foot to score easily by six lengths.
It was a performance which oozed star quality and earned her a 13lb rise in the weights.
A revised rating of 150 puts Epatante just 2lb behind stable companion Fusil Raffles, who is favourite for the Christmas Hurdle.
This race will tell connections whether she can develop into a serious Champion Hurdle contender.
The likes of Comedy Of Errors, Lanzarote, Kribensis and Rock On Ruby went on to land that Cheltenham Festival contest having won the Gerry Feilden.
At odds of 5/1 with Boylesports, Epatante therefore looks worth siding with to take the step up into Grade 1 company in her stride and put herself firmly in the picture for the 2020 Champion Hurdle.
Slate House taken to shine in Kauto Star
In the 3m Kauto Star Novices’ Chase (13:55), Slate House looks worth siding with at 11/4 with BetVictor to provide West Country handler Colin Tizzard with a third winner of this staying Grade 1 contest.
This seven-year-old put in a dominant display on chasing debut at Cheltenham’s Showcase Meeting in October when scoring by 11 lengths.
After being held-up, Slate House made good headway and tracked the leaders going well three from home.
The son of Presenting then took up the running on the bit two out. When Robbie Power pressed the button, he scooted clear to easily beat Garo De Juilley.
Slate House then failed to land a monster gamble in the BetVictor Gold Cup on day two of the November Meeting at Cheltenham, but was desperately unlucky not to do so.
He was sent off the 4/1 favourite for the valuable 2m 4f Grade 3 handicap chase, but his supporters had plenty of anxious moments in the early part of the contest as the gelding’s jumping lacked any sort of fluency.
Power had to nurse Slate House around the first circuit and the pair then travelled ominously well into contention rounding the home turn.
Slate House loomed up large and was all set to take up the running at the second last only to stumble on landing having jumped the fence well.
The overall feeling is that Slate House would have won had he stood on his feet. He has since resumed winnings ways with a cosy half-a-length success in a 2m 7f novice contest at Huntingdon.
That will have done his confidence the world of good and Slate House is an exciting prospect who can take this en route to better things.
Simply The Betts fancied to land hat-trick on Christmas Hurdle card
Simply The Betts is a progressive sort who looks ahead of his mark and value at 7/2 with 888Sport in the 2m 4f novices’ handicap chase (13:20).
After winning his sole start in a decent bumper at Market Rasen, this Harry Whittington trained six-year-old shaped with stacks of promise on hurdling debut when a 6 3/4 lengths third of 13 to Lostintranslation in a hot contest at Newbury.
The winner is a hugely exciting sort who has since landed the Betfair Chase at Haydock and battling for favouritism for the feature race on the Christmas Hurdle card – the Grade 1 King George VI Chase.
Black Op, who came fourth, went on to finish runner-up to Samcro at the 2018 Cheltenham Festival before taking a Grade 1 novice hurdle at Aintree.
Simply The Betts went on to open his account in good style at Warwick four starts later when scoring by six lengths and then followed-up in game fashion at Hexham.
He was not at his best in two subsequent outings, but has won his two starts over fences this season in terrific style.
In the first of those at Chepstow, Simply The Betts won easing down by 4 1/2 lengths from Espoir De Guye off a mark of 125.
As he was giving the runner-up 5lb, and that one has won twice since and cruised home in the last of those at Ascot when landing a competitive class 2 affair by 10 lengths off a rating of 130, the form has a solid look.
Simply The Betts has since won easily by 3 1/2 lengths at Newcastle off 132. A further 8lb rise in the weights may not be enough to stop him going in again, judged on his win over Espoir De Guye.