Epatante wins the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham
Epatante justified strong market support to provide trainer Nicky Henderson with a record eighth victory in the Unibet Champion Hurdle.
Few would have marked the six-year-old down as a likely contender for the two-mile hurdling crown following an abject display in the Mares Novices' Hurdle at last year's Cheltenham Festival.
However, after following up a sparkling seasonal reappearance at Newbury with an equally impressive success in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton, the JP McManus-owned mare was sent off the the well-supported 2-1 favourite.
Always travelling well in the hands of Barry Geraghty, Epatante loomed into contention before taking over the lead from Darver Star at the final flight.
Sharjah came from a long way back to throw down a challenge on the run-in, but Epatante never looked in serious danger of being caught and passed the post a facile winner - much to the delight of the majority of the crowd.
Henderson was completing a double on the day, having earlier landed the Supreme Novices' Hurdle with Shishkin, and is once again the winning-most trainer in Festival history with 66 winners, one clear of Willie Mullins.
The Seven Barrows trainer handler said: "She was always travelling quite well, I was always pleased with where she was. Barry gave her a beautiful ride, he always just had it covered. She has the gears.
"I've got to say I was worried after last year when she didn't run well in the mares' novice. She fell to pieces afterwards, she went home to Martinstown (in Ireland). I sent her back looking awful and she came back looking fantastic.
"We've been very lucky to have these sorts of horses. If you think about it it, JP should have had last year's winner in the race (Espoir D'Allen) and Buveur d'Air is back at Martinstown with a hole in his foot. So this (Epatante) should have been his third string.
"Fair play to JP and his team, you know what he puts into it."