Nicky Henderson is looking forward to running Epatante in the Betfair Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle after the 2020 Champion Hurdle winner worked at the Ladbrokes Winter Festival gallops morning at Newbury.
Epatante took the Grade 1 prize at the Gosforth Park course last year and will be aiming to get back on track after losing her Champion Hurdle crown to Honeysuckle in March.
Henderson took a team of five to the Berkshire track for some much-needed work on turf which he has been unable to do at home due to the dry autumn.
“Newbury have given us some beautiful ground to work on and Keith Ottesen (clerk of the course) has done a great job. Just to be able to come here, the timing is perfect, and apart from Epatante who goes to Newcastle, the rest that have worked this morning will be here the weekend after next,” said the Seven Barrows handler.
“It’s probably our favourite weekend as it’s local. I was born just over the hill and it’s always been our home track.
On Epatante’s work, Henderson said: “She was great. She’s been working very well but that will be her last bit ahead of Newcastle. Last season we found out a few things about her and her back was a pretty constant problem.
“Today I expected her to gallop all over the stayers, but Mister Coffey is a very good horse and those two pulled clear. In the last week she’s got the buzz back and I like the way she put her head down and really worked away.
“Her jumping said something last season, as she was brilliant at Newcastle but then it fell apart. I intentionally haven’t schooled her. She will need a school but we need rain.”
Henderson is to give Jonbon, a full-brother to Douvan, his hurdling debut at Newbury on Friday week. He went solo under Nico de Boinville and was quite keen after getting warm in the paddock.
“The intention is to bring him here on the Friday. When he won his bumper here in the spring there were possibly less people here than there are today. He’s had a lovely time and enjoyed himself. He’s a natural fidget which is why we let him work on his own,” he said.
Henderson gave an update on Champ, who is on course to have his first run since being pulled up in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, in the Many Clouds Chase at Aintree on December 4.
“He worked for Nico this morning and he’s going to Aintree for the Many Clouds. He couldn’t get off the ground in the Gold Cup and has had back surgery. I fear he did too much when he came here for the trial. He was like a gazelle and must have hurt himself with his sheer exuberance,” said Henderson.
“Happily he’s moving very well now and as he has to go left handed, the only options were the Betfair (at Haydock) and the Many Clouds. We’ve decided to go to Aintree.”