Regular readers will be aware that I was a big fan of Epatante last season. Featured in the Top 40 Prospects last year, Nicky Henderson's French import won twice over hurdles at Kempton and Exeter before disappointing in the mares' novices' hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival. Allocated an opening mark of 137, the No Risk At All filly was all the rage for the Gerry Feilden Hurdle at Newbury on Saturday and she delivered in style. Slick over her hurdles, Aidan Coleman's mount quickened up smartly after the last to win hard held by half a dozen lengths. The former champion trainer was also responsible for the second and third. It will be interesting to see where Epatante goes next. In all likelihood, the five year old will receive a rise of at least eight pounds which will leave her with a mark in the mid-140s. It is possible she will be saved for the Betfair Hurdle over the same course and distance in February - Henderson has won that race five times. Alternatively, it is not beyond the realms of possibility that she will be given an entry in the Grade 1 Christmas Hurdle at Kempton on Boxing Day, given the open nature of the Champion Hurdle picture, plus the uncertainty of the current well being of stablemate and dual Champion Buveur D'Air. Epatante is all speed and she is already a winner at the Sunbury track. I personally feel she will always be at her best on flat tracks and wouldn't look out of place in such an event.
Epatante (3/1) was another winner for the November Update, along with Tavus (9/2) who made a winning start to his hurdling career at Newcastle. A progressive horse on the Flat for Roger Charlton this year, the Pour Moi gelding was purchased for 105,000gns at the Horses in Training Sale at Newmarket during the Autumn. Having his first start for Jedd O'Keeffe, he was novicey during the early stages but picked up well on the run-in to reel in Bangor winner Navajo Pass. A neck winner, the pair pulled fourteen lengths clear of another previous winner Robeam. Tavus can only improve for the experience and it would be no surprise to see him head to Wetherby (27th December) for a juvenile hurdle under a penalty. He is a promising type who looks a useful acquisition for both codes.
Danny Whizzbang made a fine start to his chasing career by capturing the Grade 2 novice at Newbury. A winning pointer in Ireland for Colin Bowe, the Getaway gelding was acquired for €115,000 during the spring last year before sent hurdling last season. Paul Nicholls' charge won over timber at Hereford and Exeter earning an official rating of 139. He has, however, always been viewed as a chaser in the making and the six year old stayed on too strongly for previous winner Reserve Tank and Ardlethen. A four lengths winner, his victory apparently surprised his trainer so one can therefore expect further improvement. While he is bound to be touted as a live contender for the RSA Chase (as short as 14/1 in places), I would view him as ideal for the National Hunt Chase at the Festival (14/1 with Betfred & Unibet) - the further he goes, the better he looks with stamina very much his strong suit. I think the second and third got racing a long way from home and played into the hands of the winner.
There were two major disappointments at Newcastle on Saturday. Firstly, Hill Sixteen ran a shocker in the novices' handicap chase and is now 0 from 3 over fences. There must be something ailing Sue Smith's gelding because his jumping was poor and he was in trouble before the fourth last. Secondly, Buveur D'Air's surprising defeat in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle has left my 10 to follow in tatters before it has even started. In fact, arguably the best result at Newcastle today came at St James' Park rather than Gosforth Park.
Winners on Saturday featured in One Jump Ahead included Danny Whizzbang (9/2), Epatante (3/1), Magic Saint (3/1) and Takingrisks (20/1).
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