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Is Epatante vulnerable after Christmas Hurdle defeat?

Epatante will arrive at the 2021 Cheltenham Festival with a point to prove to restore her reputation after a shock defeat on Boxing Day at Kempton Park. Nicky Henderson’s charge was the overwhelming favourite to win the Christmas Hurdle, but failed to rise to the occasion and finished second behind Silver Streak at the prestigious event.

The French thoroughbred remains the top contender in the 2021 Cheltenham odds on Betfair Exchange in the Champion Hurdle, although her loss last time out has raised questions whether she will be able to mount a strong challenge to take one of the ultimate prizes at the Festival for the second year on the bounce.

Epatante was carrying a four-race winning streak into the Christmas Hurdle, with her last defeat coming at Cheltenham Festival in 2019 in the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle when she was well off the pace down in ninth. Since then Henderson turned his charge into a winning machine, beginning with the Ladbrokes Intermediate Hurdle at Newbury. Epatante blew away her competition, including her stable-mate French Crusader to claim the win by six lengths.

Henderson put his charge forward for the Christmas Hurdle at the end of 2019. In her first duel with Silver Streak, the French thoroughbred came out in top with a dominant performance with Barry Geraghty in the saddle, finishing five lengths ahead of her rivals to notch the win.

As a result of her performance, Epatante was installed as the favourite for the Champion Hurdle. Silver Streak was present in the field as well as talented competitors Cilaos Emery and Pentland Hills. However, Henderson’s charge was not to be denied as Geraghty timed her surge down the stretch to perfection, taking the lead going into the final hurdle. She was strong down the straight to close out the win ahead of the impressive Sharjah, claiming the crown in comfortable fashion.

After an eight-month absence from the track, Epatante returned to action at the Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle Racecourse. Sceau Royal was expected to challenge the bay mare for the title, but with Aidan Coleman at the reins, Epatante remained at the peak of her powers to see off the challenge and earn the win by four-and-a-half lengths.

The bookmakers were so confident of another Epatante triumph her odds were as low as 1/5 to defend her Christmas Hurdle crown. On this occasion, she was off the boil from the off and was never able to find her stride on the Kempton track. Coleman tried to edge the French thoroughbred forward, but she lacked the rhythm to challenge Silver Streak down the stretch, finishing well of the pace in second place.

Her last outing may have just been a rare blip and Epatante remains the outstanding candidate for the Champion Hurdle to defend her crown. The defeat at the hands of Silver Streak will hand confidence to Evan Williams and the other trainers in the field that the champion can be beaten. Henderson has work ahead of him ready his charge and get her back to prime form in time for the race to join an elite company of horses that have won successive Champion Hurdles.