Epatante ready for Fighting Fifth defence says trainer Nicky Henderson

Nicky Henderson is looking forward to running Epatante in the Betfair Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle after giving her a spin at the Ladbrokes Winter Festival gallops morning at Newbury.

Newcastle target: Nicky Henderson's Epatante defends her Betfair Fighting Fifth Hurdle crown at Gosforth Park on November 27. Picture: Tim Goode/PA Wire.

Epatante took the Grade One 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.

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“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.”

Henderson says Shishkin is set to put his unbeaten record over fences on the line in the Betfair Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown on December 4.

The seven-year-old is the trainer’s sole representative among 14 entries for the Grade Two over two miles. Henderson reports last season’s Arkle Trophy and Maghull Novices’ Chase scorer to be on course for the pre-Christmas feature.

“He’s going straight for the Tingle Creek. The two-mile division is very hot this season and let’s see what Willie (Mullins) throws at us,” said the Seven Barrows handler. “He has a strong hand and it’s going to be an early-season scorcher, isn’t it?”

“Dan (Skelton) is saying his horse (Nube Negra) is going to go there and he was very impressive at Cheltenham - and don’t forget, he actually beat Altior at Kempton last year.

“We knew before the season started this was going to be a hot division this year and Willie holds a lot of the cards.

“I was hoping we might get a free run until after Christmas, but I can see Willie’s point - he’s got two or three to play with and is going to have to come here with something, otherwise he’ll run out of race in Ireland.

“Shishkin grew a lot during the summer. He’s now big, strong and fully matured - he’s ready to roll.”

Mullins has entered three of his big guns - Energumene and Allaho and Chacun Pour Soi - and is likely to send over one from his Irish base as he wants to split them between the Hilly Way, Tingle Creek and John Durkan which take place on same weekend.

Henry de Bromhead’s Captain Guinness, winner of a Grade Three chase at Naas earlier this month, is a fourth Irish entry while Nube Negra, who made a successful seasonal debut in the Shloer Chase at Cheltenham, is in the mix for Skelton.

Paul Nicholls, who has won the race a record 11 times, has four possibles including last year’s victor Politologue. His others are Greaneteen, Hitman and Rouge Vif. The list is completed by Cheddleton, Defi Du Seuil, First Flow and Paint The Dream.