Nicky Henderson has high hopes for Epatante ahead of her return on Saturday
Nicky Henderson has high hopes for Epatante ahead of her return on Saturday

Trainer Nicky Henderson is confident Epatante is over the problems that marred her performances last season as she prepares for Saturday's renewal of the Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle. 

Epatante was an impressive winner of the Grade One feature at Gosforth Park 12 months ago, but she failed to deliver her best performances following that success. 

She finished second behind Silver Streak in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton before only managing third to Honeysuckle when attempting to defend her Champion Hurdle crown at the Cheltenham Festival. 

Those struggles were put down to an issue that saw the JP McManus-owned seven-year-old undergo back surgery over the summer and Henderson has been pleased by her form since the operation as she prepares to make her seasonal reappearance at Newcastle this weekend. 

He said: "We're all set to go. We've been very happy. 

"Her work's been good, she had a nice away day at Newbury last week. She enjoyed it and worked very well. 

"The one thing she was doing there [in the Fighting Fifth] last year was her jumping. She has always been very slick, very quick and accurate. 

"After that, and from Kempton onwards, that was missing and consequently she has had some back surgery during the summer and we just tried to tinker with a few things as you would do if you felt things had gone wrong." 

Epatante was a Cheltenham Festival winner in 2020
Epatante was a Cheltenham Festival winner in 2020

Henderson, 70, already has one eye on Epatante righting the wrongs of last year's disappointing showings at Kempton and Cheltenham. 

Despite his ambition, he knows his mare first must deliver a positive result and performance in the Fighting Fifth. 

He added: "You can't think she was at her best at Kempton in the Christmas Hurdle, which is normally her sort of race, ground and track. 

"And then at Cheltenham [in the Champion Hurdle], she ran her race to a degree but Honeysuckle was far too good for her. 

"Honeysuckle is very good but you can't help but feel we were sub par, so we'll try to get back to that and the first part of it is to go to the Fighting Fifth.

 "Hopefully, that will take us to the Christmas Hurdle and then you have to start worrying about Honeysuckle again." 

Epatante is expected to be one of the leading contenders to defend her Fighting Fifth crown, with her main opposition on Saturday likely to come in the form of Sceau Royal, who she beat into second during last year's renewal of the contest.

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