Coleman, Nicholls, and Williams looking forward to Betfair Fighting Fifth Hurdle
Star mare Epatante faces five rivals as she bids to defend her crown in the feature G1 Betfair Fighting Fifth Hurdle (3.15pm) at Newcastle this Saturday, November 27.
The 2020 Champion Hurdle heroine cruised to victory on her comeback in this contest 12 months ago before suffering three successive defeats, including third place finishes behind Honeysuckle at the Cheltenham and Punchestown Festivals.
Her trainer Nicky Henderson is chasing a record seventh Betfair Fighting Fifth Hurdle, with fellow Champion Hurdle victors Buveur D’Air (2017 & 2018) and Punjabi (2008) among his other previous winners.
Epatante’s jockey Aidan Coleman said: “Epatante has been a super mare – winning a Champion Hurdle – and she was very impressive in this race last year.
“I am just really excited to be getting back on her. Unfortunately, things did not go to plan after the Fighting Fifth and we are hoping that she can put up a similar performance to last year.
“All Grade 1 races are difficult to win and the Fighting Fifth is going to be no different – Sceau Royal was second last year and has started the season in great form while Silver Streak beat us in the Christmas Hurdle. They are proven Grade 1 horses and then you have Monmiral, who is something of an unknown quantity. It looks a high-quality race.”
Epatante is the 5/6 favourite with Betfair, with exciting four-year-old Monmiral next in at 10/3 for Paul Nicholls.
Monmiral was Britain’s leading juvenile hurdler last season after winning all four of his starts, culminating with a seven and a half-length victory over Adagio in the G1 Anniversary 4-Y-O Juvenile Hurdle at Aintree.
There have been four four-year-old winners of the Betfair Fighting Fifth Hurdle, including the great Night Nurse in 1975 and most recently Countrywide Flame in 2012.
Nicholls, speaking via Zoom this morning, said: “Monmiral just schooled and seems in good order. This is a step up for him, but he could not have done any more than he has, having won all of his starts.
“The form from Aintree has turned out good, but it is hard for four-year-olds in their second season as they don’t get any allowances over hurdles, so he will need to improve and be at the top of his game.
“I am glad to hear the weather forecast as we were concerned about running him on faster ground. If they get the forecast rain and it is Good to Soft or slower, that will be perfect.
“Monmiral was bought to be a staying chaser. He has a high level of form and this will tell us where we are. Last year he was quite lazy and, while he has sharpened up a lot at home, Saturday is a fact-finding mission.
“Monmiral saves his best for the track; he is no morning glory. He worked well at Newbury with Clan Des Obeaux and Enrilo – two three-mile chasers – so he has had a good prep and won’t need the run.
“Four four-year-olds have won the race, but he doesn’t know that. We didn’t want to go chasing this season, so we were going to end up running in these races. Saturday’s run will tell us whether we go for the Christmas Hurdle or step up in trip.
“Sean Bowen has won on him twice. He gets on with him and had a sit on him recently. The horse looks great and we’re hopeful of a very good run, but I can’t predict that he is going to go and win. We’ll let the horse do the talking.”
Last year’s runner-up Sceau Royal arrives at the top of his game for Alan King following a record third success in the G2 Elite Hurdle at Wincanton on November 6.
Silver Streak had Epatante’s measure last season in the G1 Christmas Hurdle at Kempton Park, where a switch to front-running tactics saw him win by six and a half lengths. Evan Williams’ runner chased home Sceau Royal in a Listed hurdle at the same track in October.
Williams said: “Everything is grand with Silver Streak. We think he is heading up there in great form, but it is going to be a very difficult race to win.
“You can make a case for pretty much the whole field, as should be the case for a Grade 1 race, and hopefully our lad can put his best foot forward.”
Not So Sleepy, a dual winner of the G3 Betfair Exchange Trophy Handicap Hurdle at Ascot, and outsider Voix du Reve complete the six runners.
Betfair spokesman Barry Orr commented today: “The clash between last year’s winner Epatante and the exciting youngster Monmiral is on, and the mare is very strong at 5/6 to repeat last year’s victory.
“Sceau Royal is no back number though and, with fitness on his side, is now 4/1 from 5/1.’’
4/1 Sceau Royal
8/1 Silver Streak
16/1 Not So Sleepy
100/1 Voix du Reve
James Armstrong, Clerk of the Course at Newcastle, said: “Forecasts have been changing every day, but the latest forecast this morning is that we are due more rain tomorrow which is pretty heavy through to Friday night into Saturday morning. We are looking at upwards of 10 millimetres of rain, and we could even get 20. It looks more like being wintry, slushy stuff with us but over the Pennines they are talking about more heavy snow.
“At the start of this week, we were on Good ground. We have been watering away and have put on near on 20 millimetres in the home straight and between five and eight millimetres across the rest of the course. We are genuinely Good, Good to Soft in places as we speak right now and any rain that comes via nature’s assistance in the next two days will see us ease a fair bit more, certainly to maybe Good to Soft and maybe even more depending on where it falls and when.”