Nicky Henderson has Epatante in Champion Hurdle form with back issues remedied
Nicky Henderson is confident both of his currently active Unibet Champion Hurdle winners, Epatante and Buveur D'Air, are in the sort of shape to be right in the firing line as the trainer goes in search of a ninth win in the Cheltenham showpiece.
Epatante failed to cope with Silver Streak at Kempton in the Christmas Hurdle but has had her back worked on and Henderson is much happier with her condition. He feels she could be the one to beat if returning to the form of her seasonal debut success in the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle.
"Kempton was disappointing because she was very, very good in the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle," said Henderson, who was hosting the media on a pre-Cheltenham conference call organised by Jockey Club Racecourses. "Christmas just didn’t go her way, she wasn’t herself, but fair play to the winner Silver Streak, who was very good and set a proper test, and we were at no stage really in a position to have a crack at him.
"We've been able to iron out a few things and she's definitely better than she showed there. We're in a better place with her now.
"She had a bit of a sore back and we've had that treated. She had a little bit more than physio. I don't know if that was all that was wrong at Kempton but she wasn't comfortable for whatever reason. She has always been a bit rigid."
While Henderson admitted that early incidents in the Fighting Fifth thinned out the opposition, he was not shy in praising a performance he considers as good as her defeat of Sharjah in the Champion Hurdle last March.
"She picked up Sceau Royal who was leading to the last and she went past him with so much class," said Henderson. "She looked wonderful there and if we've got her back there, she's got as good a chance as any"
Henderson is full of respect for Honeysuckle, who has deposed Epatante as favourite in most lists, while he described Gary Moore's efforts in getting Goshen back into the Champion Hurdle reckoning as "a magic white rabbit out of a hat trick".
"I really do commend the Gary Moore team for getting Goshen back, who after last year's Triumph looked one of our biggest threats for this year," said Henderson. "They've done a brilliant job to get him back now and he looks a very potent threat."
But he was also keen to push the claims of Buveur D'Air, the Champion Hurdle winner in 2017 and 2018 and second on his return to action from more than a year off at Haydock last month.
"I think Buveur has been forgotten and in the betting he's out with the washing, whereas Epatante is sharing favouritism with Honeysuckle and Goshen and it's all going to be very competitive." said Henderson. "It was horrible ground at Haydock and he just emptied a bit at the last, as he was entitled to. But it's done him the world of good."
Henderson also reported Altior in good form ahead of his bid for a third Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase, after enjoy "a good gallop with fences" in company with Mister Fisher.
And he confirmed that consideration was being given to cheekpieces at Cheltenham.
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