Cheltenham Festival: Nicky Henderson to make Epatante decision after watching strength of Irish Champion Hurdle | Racing News

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Trainer Nicky Henderson says a decision on whether Epatante joins superstar stablemate Constitution Hill in the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham hinges on the strength of the Irish challenge.

The Seven Barrows master is set to be glued to this weekend’s Dublin Racing Festival as the best of the Irish two-mile hurdle division do battle at Leopardstown.

Epatante has twice watched on in the shadow of Constitution Hill, before roaring back to winning ways in lesser company in the Grade Two Yorkshire Rose Mares’ Hurdle at Doncaster last weekend.

She has the option of staying among her own sex at the Festival next month and move back up to two-and-a-half miles, a trip she has already proved capable of getting with her sublime victory at Aintree last year.

Henderson joined Sky Sports Racing on Wednesday to give an update on some of his best hopes for Cheltenham…

Constitution Hill (Champion Hurdle – 1/3)

“He’s in good form. His build-up towards March has begun.

“He’s had a fair bit of time off since the Christmas Hurdle and the only thing that’s really happened since then is that Epatante has come out and won as far as she liked so at least it proves that Constitution Hill was actually beating something.”

Constitution Hill remains unbeaten in five starts over hurdles
Constitution Hill remains unbeaten in five starts over hurdles

Epatante (Champion Hurdle – 20/1 or Mares’ Hurdle – 4/1)

“I haven’t spoken to JP [McManus, owner] yet but she’s proved she stayed two-and-a-half miles at Aintree last year and won that really nicely.

“We’re lucky we’ve got Marie’s Rock in there [Mares’ Hurdle] as well, but she’s also in the Stayers’.

“In the Champion, we’ve got Epatante there as a back-up, if Constitution Hill even needs one.

“It’s going to be very interesting to see what happens this weekend with Honeysuckle and State Man [in the Irish Champion Hurdle]. That will tell us quite and lot and I should think the decision on Epatante will be made as a result of what we see there.”

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Nico De Boinville couldn’t hide his delight when discussing Epatante, now 4/1 for the Mares’ Hurdle after victory at Doncaster.

Jonbon (Arkle – 6/5)

“He’s in great shape. He worked yesterday, will school tomorrow and is all on course for Warwick [Kingmaker Chase].

“He just wants one more run. He’s had a nice little freshen up since the Henry VIII and hopefully this will put him right for the Arkle.

“We’ll be watching [the Irish Arkle] quite carefully but the good thing is Constitution Hill and Jonbon don’t have televisions in their boxes so they won’t know what’s going on.”

Shishkin (Ryanair Chase – 7/1)

“He’s in good form and we’ve had a little wind operation. I’m looking forward to it [The Ascot Chase].

“Ever since Ascot it occurred to Nico [de Boinville, jockey] and myself that he was just about flat out all the way.

“We’ve been pretty sure he will stay, otherwise I’ve got it hopelessly wrong because I haven’t even got him in the Champion Chase. It’s not to say we can’t supplement Shishkin because he suddenly find he’s still a two-miler but just wasn’t breathing properly. It’s certainly funny how the two-mile division has opened up over the weekend.

“What I’d like to see him do more than anything is have a race where he can travel in his own comfort zone.”

As for Shishkin’s Cheltenham plans, Henderson added: “I would’ve thought it’s going to be two-and-a-half unless something absolutely miraculous turns up at Ascot to change our mind. All the doors are open.”

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Trainer Nicky Henderson has told Sky Sports Racing the Ryanair Chase is Shishkin’s most likely destination at the Chelteham Festival after featuring in the Ascot Chase this month.

Luccia (Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle – 5/2)

“She had a dirty scope when we were trying to run her in the Tolworth but that’s all cleared up.

“There’s a nice Listed novice hurdle at Exeter on Sunday week and I think that’ll be the likely port of call.

“I was always thinking I might get two more runs into her but I’m not finding it as easy to map that out as I hoped I might.”

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