The defender: Epatante
Nicky Henderson’s Epatante is currently priced at 10/11 on the Betfair Sportsbook to go and win this race for the second year in a row.
Aiden Coleman will be hoping he can be the man to deliver once again on Saturday and both the trainer and jockey believe the seven-year-old is prepped and ready.
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.”
This will be Epatante’s first run of the season, having last been seen in April, finishing third behind Honeysuckle in the Paddy Power Champion Hurdle at Punchestown.
However, his absence means little having won this race last year after a 263 days away from the track and is sure to be a popular winner amongst the punters once again this year.
The Challengers: Monmiral, Sceau Royal & Silver Streak
Paul Nicholls hasn’t won this race since 2014 with Irving, but Monmiral, who won the Grade 1 Juvenile Hurdle at Aintree in April, could well break that unwanted streak. Having won his last five races, four have come since changing trainers, the market currently has the four-year-old priced up at 3/1 to cause a slight upset.
With the slightly softer ground than expected, conditions may well play to Monmiral’s strengths and any money for Paul Nicholls’ star shouldn’t be ignored.
Nicholls, speaking via Zoom on Thursday, 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.”
Next in the market is Sceau Royal, currently priced at 9/2. The ever-present Daryl Jacob will once again be on board, having delivered two successful rides at Kempton and Wincanton this season.
Despite being in-form, Jacob has come out and praised Sceau Royal’s consistency and loves to ride him, but admits it will be a challenge to topple Epatante if the favourite is in the mood.
Silver Streak finished almost four lengths behind Sceau Royal at Kempton when as short as 4/6, who hasn’t been seen since. Adam Wedge will be back on board for Evan Williams, hoping to rectify that performance and return to winning ways. The eight-year-old is currently 7/1 to come out on top on Saturday and appears to be easy to back in the market.
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.”
The Outsiders: Not So Sleepy & Voix De Reve
Hughie Morrison’s Not So Sleepy is currently priced at 16/1 and remains one of the least fancied horses to prevail in the Fighting Fifth.
Despite this, he managed to outrun his 125/1 odds in the Paddy Power Champion Hurdle last season, finishing fifth, two places behind Epatante on that occasion. The nine-year-old returned from a 167 day break this season to finish second at Doncaster on the flat. Jonathan Burke will be on board on this occasion.
Last but not least is Voix De Reve for Iain Jardine, and is currently priced as the rank outsider at 100/1. After signing off last season with a disappointing run at Punchestown finishing a remote 11th of 19, the nine-year-old didn’t pull any punches after a 177 day absence at Cheltenham, finishing last of seven. Conor O’Farrell takes the ride, despite very little being expected from the veteran in the field.
Betfair spokesman, Barry Orr, commented: “The clash between last year’s winner, Epatante, and the young turk, 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