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Epatante dominates Betway Aintree Hurdle

Class came to the fore in the Betway Aintree Hurdle as brilliant mare Epatante ran out an easy winner.

The former champion hurdler had cruised into contention under Aidan Coleman, who was still sat motionless on the mare approaching the final flight.

While Zanahiyr (15-8 favourite) was within hailing distance on the run to the last, he looked set to be on the wrong end of the battle when he took a heavy fall, leaving Nicky Henderson’s Epatante (2-1) to come home alone.

Zanahiyr and Jack Kennedy escaped unscathed from the fall, which saw Guard Your Dreams badly hampered and Sam Twiston-Davies unshipped when in with a chance of finishing third.

It has been an almost perfect season for Epatante, who has been right back to her best, dead-heating in the Fighting Fifth, winning the Christmas Hurdle and finishing second to Honeysuckle in the Champion Hurdle.

Epatante has been first, third and second in the last three Champion Hurdles and is still only eight, and having proved her stamina for two and a half miles now, she has opened up further options.

The five-year-old Monmiral came from the back to claim second, but he was beaten 14 lengths.

Henderson said: “She’s right back to her best. That’s the first time she has ever been two and a half miles and the worry was would she get it? She’s won all sorts of Group Ones over two miles and we asked her to go that bit further and she got it standing on her head!

“She’s quickened very well and her jumping was electric. That’s her secret weapon, well, it’s not a secret weapon. It’s an open weapon.

“She’s just been back to herself, we didn’t have to change an awful lot. This mare, she needs her confidence, and she’s got it back as you can see.”

On plans, the Seven Barrows handler added: “Something like Constitution Hill might come into the equation. We’ll see where they all go, we’ll worry about that later!

“We’ve put her in at Punchestown. Who knows? She’s on top of her form, isn’t she? She deserves it, she’s done nothing wrong all year.

“She ran a super race at Cheltenham. JP said at the beginning of the season ‘Fighting Fifth, Christmas Hurdle, those are our golden aims’. We halved one and won the other and you’d settle for that, then we had a crack at the Champion and she was an honourable second. She’s massively improved on last year.

McManus was delighted, saying: “It’s a great performance by Nicky to have her in the shape she was in after the Champion Hurdle, I’m very pleased.

“She hasn’t had too many issues, she met one too good in the Champion Hurdle, it was great that he got her back and he was very happy with her preparation.

“She did it very well.”

Coleman said: “You can just do whatever you want on her really, she had a lovely run through and she was travelling well when we got left alone at the last. It was a super performance and I’m delighted.

“She’s won a Grade One left-handed at Newcastle, a Grade One right-handed at Kempton, a Champion Hurdle left-handed, whatever you want, she’ll do. She’s very good.”

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