Epatante and Not So Sleepy to renew rivalry in Christmas Hurdle at Kempton

Henderson hopes Epatante can return to winning ways in race Silver Streak won last year

Fighting Fifth dead-heaters Epatante and Not So Sleepy meet again in the Ladbrokes Christmas Hurdle at Kempton on St Stephen's Day. Nicky Henderson's mare Epatante won the race in 2019 before she went on to land the Champion Hurdle, but it has not been plain sailing since then.

She underwent surgery in the summer for a back issue that Henderson felt was hindering her hurdling and she then shared victory at Newcastle on her return. Beaten by Silver Streak in this race 12 months ago, Henderson hopes she is a different proposition this year.

“You wouldn’t want to see the Epatante that was at Kempton last year, I think she was uncomfortable before the race and she didn’t jump with her normal accuracy and speed. She was very fidgety before the race, but take nothing away from Silver Streak,” he said. “I’d have to say I’m very happy.”

Hughie Morrison’s nine-year-old Not So Sleepy gained his first Grade One win at Newcastle, showing his versatility having also been a smart performer on the Flat. “He has probably improved two or three pounds since last spring but he did deserve a win in a race like the Fighting Fifth,” said Morrison.

Final call

Last Saturday's Ascot winner Tritonic also features among five declarations along with Soaring Glory and Glory And Fortune. However, his trainer Alan King has yet to make a final call on whether he will run.

He said: “I’ve no idea if he is going to run or not. I won’t make a decision until tomorrow. He’s taken the race well and we will do a little breeze in the morning and then decide.”

As well as the King George VI Chase and Christmas Hurdle, there is a third Grade One on the card in the Ladbrokes Kauto Star Novices’ Chase, which sees a mouth-watering clash between Ahoy Senor and Bravemansgame. Both were Grade One-winning novice hurdlers last season and have taken extremely well to fences.

Lucinda Russell’s Ahoy Senor tipped up on his chasing debut at Carlisle but was extremely impressive in Grade Two company at Newbury. The Paul Nicholls-trained Bravemansgame arrives unbeaten in two runs over fences at Newton Abbot and Haydock, where he accounted for more experienced rivals in Fusil Raffles and Itchy Feet respectively. Kiltealy Briggs and Tea Clipper complete the field.

Meanwhile, Native River will make one last bid to win the Coral Welsh Grand National on Monday, as the former Cheltenham Gold Cup winner will be retired at the end of the season, according to connections.

One of the most popular horses in training, the 11-year-old will tackle handicap company for the first time since winning the Chepstow showpiece five years ago off a rating of 155. Dropped 4lb for his runner-up effort to Protektorat in the Many Clouds Chase at Aintree last time, Native River will line up on a hefty mark of 166.

‘Unfortunate’

Broome said: “Provided we get the rain they forecast, we should be going. We thought we’d run him as there was nothing really until the Cotswold Chase. He’s fit and well and he ran a good race in the Many Clouds, but he was outclassed by an up-and-coming horse.

“He’s now falling between two stools, between graded races and handicaps. If you do go for a handicap, you’ll be carrying a big weight. It is just a bit unfortunate for him that they have dropped him 4lb and he has to run off 166. It doesn’t help.

“But he likes Chepstow and hopefully the ground conditions and the distance are all pluses for him. “He is very well in himself and while it is not ideal, he doesn’t have too many options, but he always runs his race.”

Bonanza Boy and Mountainous are the only two horses to have won two Welsh Grand Nationals in the last 32 years, but this will be Native River’s last attempt to become a dual victor.

Broome added: “After that, he won’t be going for the Gold Cup or anything. It will all depend on what the ground is in the spring as to whether we decide how long we carry on. Obviously it is going to be his last season.”