NICKY Henderson was left red-faced recently, as the veteran trainer accidently left former Champion Hurdle winner Epatante out of the entries for the Grade 1 Mares’ Hurdle on the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival in March.
The 72-year-old has confirmed that race is still the aim for Epatante, but he will now have to foot the £4,599 supplement to get the JP McManus-owned nine-year-old back in to the two-mile and half a furlong contest due to his embarrassing error.
Henderson still boasts an incredibly strong contingent of entries, nonetheless — especially on Champions Day (day one) of the Festival, where he looks set to saddle the favourite in the horse racing odds in all but one of the curtain raiser’s four Grade 1 contests.
That said, let’s take a look at Seven Burrows’ best chances of victory at the Festival. Read on to find out more.
A true fan favourite in National Hunt racing, Jonbon gained a massive following last season when he won four of his five attempts over hurdles — with his only defeat coming to his stablemate Constitution Hill in the Festival’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.
Perhaps due to the immense quality of that aforementioned horse, Jonbon has reverted to fences this year. The six-year-old has made the perfect start to his chasing career thus far, winning on both of his outings — including the Grade 1 Henry VIII Novices’ Chase at Sandown in December.
The McManus-owned horse is readily available at around 11/8 to win the Arkle on the opening day of Cheltenham, but will face competition from Willie Mullins duo Dysart Dynamo and Appreciate It.
Speaking of Constitution Hill, the Henderson-trained star looks set to be the shortest-priced horse of the entire Festival as he’s currently 1/3 to dethrone Honeysuckle and win the Champion Hurdle in what is the feature of the opening day.
The six-year-old and Henry de Bromhead’s prized mare were tipped to form one of the biggest rivalries of a generation this season, but a maiden defeat for Honeysuckle on her 17th outing at Fairyhouse last month has left their Champion Hurdle clash up in the air.
You could argue that regardless of that blip in Ireland, Constitution Hill would beat an on-song Honeysuckle with ease anyway. In fact, the bookies don’t even make the mare his main threat — with State Man (4/1) shorter than her 8/1 odds.
Interestingly, if Henderson is to lay the £4,559 to supplement Epatante for the Mares’ Hurdle at a later date, she will be up against her stablemate Marie’s Rock in the fourth and final Grade 1 of Champions Day.
The eight-year-old landed her fourth successive win in incredible style at Cheltenham Racecourse on New Year’s Day, winning the Grade 2 Relkeel Hurdle by an impressive six lengths under Nico de Boinville — and she’s well backed at 9/4 to defend her Mares’ Hurdle crown after winning the race from 18/1 last year.
If Epatante is to be reinstated in the market, she will likely come in at similar odds to Love Envoi (4/1) and Brandy Love (9/2).
Another horse that looks set to be a star of the future from Seven Burrows’ never ending conveyer belt, Luccia won two National Hunt flat contests last season and made the transition to hurdles well with a comfortable win in the Listed Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle at Newbury in November.
The five-year-old was heavily backed to win the Grade 1 Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown earlier this month, but missed the contest due to an unsatisfactory scope. She’s still favoured at 11/4 to win the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle, however.