Ante post favourite Epatante is one of 36 2020 Champion Hurdle entries for the Grade 1 highlight on the Cheltenham Festival’s opening day – Tuesday, 10 March.
The Nicky Henderson trained six-year-old mare, who carries the famous green and gold hoops of leading Irish owner JP McManus, has taken her form to a new level this season in winning both her starts emphatically.
After starting her campaign with a smooth success in the Gerry Feilden at Newbury in November, Epatante took the step up into Grade 1 company in her stride when quickening clear to impressively account for Silver Streak by five lengths in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton Park on Boxing Day.
The daughter of No Risk At All looks the real deal and is regarded by bookmakers as a worthy market leader.
Epatante is open to stacks more progression after winning four of her five starts over the obstacles.
Handler Henderson is also the most successful handler in Unibet Champion Hurdle history with seven wins, while owner McManus has won the race a record eight times.
If justifying favouritism, Epatante would become the fifth mare to win it after Annie Power (2016), Flakey Dove (1994), Dawn Run (1984) and African Sister (1939).
Seven Barrows trainer Henderson has a quintet of Champion Hurdle entries which also feature fellow Grade 1 winning mare Verdana Blue, last year’s Triumph Hurdle hero Pentland Hills, Grade 2 International Hurdle victor Call Me Lord and Fusil Raffles.
The latter lost his unbeaten record over the obstacles when pulled-up in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton.
Silver Streak finished third in the 2019 Champion Hurdle and has continued in fine form this season for Welsh handler Evan Williams. He is set to return to Cheltenham without another run.
Saldier among Mullins quartet
Champion Irish trainer Willie Mullins, who has captured the Champion Hurdle four times since 2011, has four entered.
His team includes the Rich and Susannah Ricci owned pair of Saldier and Sharjah, who have both landed Grade 1s in the Emerald Isle this season.
The 2019 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle winner Klassical Dream, who has failed to fire in two starts this season when sent off odds-on on both occasions, is also engaged.
Saldier is the shortest in the betting and currently second-favourite, while both Klassical dream and Sharjah can be backed at double figure odds.
There are four novices among the Champion Hurdle entries, and two of those hail from the stable of Gordon Elliott. Abacadabras is currently ante post favourite for the Supreme Novices’ Hurde.
Last year’s Champion Bumper hero Envoi Allen – a perfect three from three over hurdles this season – is more likely to run in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle and heads the market on that.
Ireland’s hand is strengthened further by the presence of Henry De Bromhead’s unbeaten mare Honeysuckle.
She is a Fairyhouse specialist and secured a second Grade 1 of her career in the Hatton’s Grace Hurdle there in December.
Full 2020 Champion Hurdle entries
- Abacadabras (Gordon Elliott, IRE
- Apple’s Jade (Gordon Elliott, IRE)
- Aramon (Willie Mullins, IRE)
- Ballyandy (Nigel Twiston-Davies)
- Call Me Lord (Nicky Henderson)
- Coeur Sublime (Gordon Elliott, IRE)
- Cornerstone Lad (Micky Hammond)
- Darasso (Joseph O’Brien, IRE)
- Darver Star (Gavin Cromwell, IRE)
- Eldorado Allen (Colin Tizzard)
- Elgin (Alan King)
- Envoi Allen (Gordon Elliott, IRE)
- Epatante (Nicky Henderson)
- Felix Desjy (Gordon Elliott, IRE)
- Fusil Raffles (Nicky Henderson)
- Gumball (Philip Hobbs)
- Honeysuckle (Henry De Bromhead, IRE)
- Klassical Dream (Willie Mullins, IRE)
- Le Patriote (Dr Richard Newland)
- Mengli Khan (Gordon Elliott, IRE)
- Mohaayed (Dan Skelton)
- Monsieur Lecoq (Jane Williams)
- Nelson River (Tony Carroll)
- Not So Sleepy (Hughie Morrison)
- Pacify (Jamie Snowden)
- Pentland Hills (Nicky Henderson)
- Petit Mouchoir (Henry De Bromhead, IRE)
- Quick Grabim (Fergal O’Brien)
- Saldier (Willie Mullins, IRE)
- Samcro (Gordon Elliott, IRE)
- Sharjah (Willie Mullins, IRE)
- Silver Streak (Evan Williams)
- Supasundae (Jessica Harrington, IRE)
- Thebannerkingrebel (Jamie Snowden)
- Thomas Darby (Olly Murphy)
- Verdana Blue (Nicky Henderson)