Nicky Henderson to unleash Epatante on Fighting Fifth at Newcastle

NICKY Henderson is looking forward to taking the wraps off Epatante in the Betfair Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle on Saturday.

Epatante - pictured winning the 2020 Champion Hurdle under the now retired Barry Geraghty - heads to Newcastle on Saturday for the Grade One Fighting Fifth Hurdle.

The former champion trainer felt the 2020 Champion Hurdle winner was below her best after lifting this prize 12 months ago.

However, the seven-year-old has been giving him the right signs since having back surgery during the summer and will be ridden by Aidan Coleman at Newcastle.

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“We’re all set to go. We’ve been very happy. Her work’s been good, she had a nice away day at Newbury last week. She enjoyed it and worked very well,” said Henderson.

This was Shishkin winning the Arkle Trophy at the Cheltenham Festival under Nico de Boinville.

“I think she’s in good form but I’ve got to say she was impressive beating Sceau Royal last year and he was impressive at Wincanton the other day, so I don’t think it’s going to be as straightforward this time.

“The one thing she was doing there last year was her jumping. She has always been very slick, very quick and accurate. After that, and from Kempton onwards, that was missing and consequently she has had some back surgery during the summer and we just tried to tinker with a few things as you would do if you felt things had gone wrong.”

Henderson went on: “You can’t think she was at her best at Kempton in the Christmas Hurdle which is normally her sort of race, ground and track. And then at Cheltenham [in the Champion Hurdle], she ran her race to a degree but Honeysuckle was far too good for her.

“Honeysuckle is very good but you can’t help but feel we were sub par, so we’ll try to get back to that and the first part of it is to go to the Fighting Fifth. Hopefully, that will take us to the Christmas Hurdle and then you have to start worrying about Honeysuckle again.”

Trainer Nicky Henderson.

Henderson’s positivity, however, contrasted with his disappointment after Shishkin was ruled out of next week’s Betfair Tingle Creek Chase.

The unbeaten chaser – victorious at Doncaster last season under Nico de Boinville – was due to make his seasonal reappearance in the Sandown Grade One.

However Henderson has decided to reroute Shishkin, the potential successor to his two-mile steeplechasing supertars Sprinter Sacre and Altior, to the Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton over Christmas instead.

“I’ve just spoken to [owner] Joe Donnelly and we’ve sadly and reluctantly decided that Shishkin is not going to run in the Tingle Creek,” said Henderson.

“There’s nothing wrong with him, but I just haven’t got there. He worked this morning and he just isn’t sparky at the moment. I think I just got behind the ball a little bit.

“We did his wind in the autumn which wasn’t a problem, but it just put us behind the ball and Nico and I both feel he’s not quite on his A game.

“It really is a thin line. We’ve scoped him and everything and there’s nothing wrong, but you can’t afford to go into this at anything bar 100 per cent.”

Henderson added: “Joe is a fantastic man and he said to do whatever is best for the horse and that is definitely what we’re doing.

“We’ll go to Kempton now, I imagine. He looks magnificent, he’s just missing maybe five per cent that you need to have and can’t go without. We all know that the best thing for this horse is to give him a chance.”

In other news, Paul Webber feels Wetherby winner Indefatigable will have to find improvement to land tomorrow’s Ladbrokes Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury.

Winner of the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle at the 2020 Cheltenham Festival, the eight-year-old mare enters the three-mile contest on the back of an authoritative victory in the West Yorkshire Hurdle on Charlie Hall Chase day.

Indefatigable reopposes former Stayers’ Hurdle winner Paisley Park, whom she had behind her at Wetherby, and Webber is hopeful she will acquit herself well and frank that form.

Webber said: “It is obviously going to be a bit more difficult for her than it was at Wetherby, but she is in very good form. After this run, much depends on what sort of winter we have, because she doesn’t want very soft ground. We are just hoping we can get past Newbury and then make a plan, depending on what the weather does.”

Meanwhile, Paisley Park will wear cheekpieces for the first time – trainer Emma Lavelle hopes the headgear will help sharpen up the nine-year-old in a race which will help determine whether the nine-year-old continues over smaller obstacles or goes novice chasing.

“This is an important race for Paisley Park to decide what the next step is,” said Lavelle. “He doesn’t in any way suggest at home that he is any different to how he’s been in other years, but he has to go and do it at Newbury.