Barry Geraghty expects Epatante to have few problems defending his Fighting Fifth crown at Newcastle on Saturday, live on Sky Sports Racing.
Nicky Henderson’s mare is set to return to the scene of her last win on the track, having been beaten in three subsequent starts, including finishing third in the Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in March.
Her trainer has since indicated that back problems were the cause of her sub-par efforts, but relations are happy to have fixed the issue and anticipate a strong performance in this weekend’s freshman competition.
After enjoying a weak edition of the race last year, when two rivals – Not So Sleepy and Silver Streak – came out at the first hurdle, Epatante is set to face a more difficult task this year, with Paul Nicholls’ Monmiral among the potentials. challengers.
Speaking on the Off The Fence podcast, Geraghty, who has led Epatante to four of her six hurdles wins, said: “I’ve spoken to Nicky and he seems really happy with her. I look forward to Newcastle. .
“Dry ground is ideal for her and three miles around ticks all the boxes. If she’s as good as they think she is, then she should take a lot of hits.
“Outside of the opposition, Monmiral avoided the Triumph Hurdle last season and went to Aintree to beat Adagio, who released that form with his run in the Greatwood of the highest weight, but I wonder if Adagio was a beaten horse going to Aintree.
“He has a little to do when he’s four years old to trouble her. I think he would have a hard time anyway, even if the sky opened up.
“Royal Seal is in great shape after a brilliant win at Wincanton but there is no reason for him to reverse form with last year’s Brilliant.”
Fellow Tony Keenan expects last year’s runner-up, Royal Seal, to compete in yet another great race having already clinched the Grade Two Elite Hurdle at Wincanton this season.
“I thought this race didn’t go well for Seal Royal last year with Not So Sleepy down at the start,” said Keenan.
“It was carnage and it turned out very slowly. [Sceau Royal] was left in front, which really wouldn’t suit him at all.
“He could run a little better now in a more suitable racing setup.”
Question marks on the Ontheropes form
Geraghty looks to the Irish raiders for his pick at the Ladbrokes Trophy pitch on Saturday in Newbury.
Henry De Bromhead’s Wexford winner Eklat De Rire is the former runner’s fancy in the big race, with question marks over the form of Willie Mullins favorite 9/2 Ontheropes.
“I thought Eklat De Rire was the one in his form with Escaria Ten, who became third behind Galvin [in the National Hunt Chase]”said Geraghty.
“Ontheropes, for Willie Mullins, is the favorite but it’s fun to understand. He was beaten four times over fences before missing a while, then finished second behind Monkfish.
“He then missed another year and came back to win the Munster National. It’s hard enough to control him.
“You can question the strength of form in Munster National, beating A Wave Of The Sea which wasn’t so well thought out.”
Keenan added: “For the two Irish horses, the terrain will be quite different from where they won.
“Just because they have this form on loose, heavy ground doesn’t mean they can’t necessarily improve on a decent surface, but it will be interesting to see how they handle it.
“Ontheropes had a good time in Limerick but you may wonder what filled the frame.”