Grand National Festival: Epatante set to step up in trip for Aintree Hurdle; Gold Cup third Protektorat in Betway Bowl | Racing News

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The Nicky Henderson-trained Epatante could step up to two-and-a-half miles for the first time in the Betway Aintree Hurdle at the Merseyside track on Thursday.

The eight-year-old mare was runner-up to Honeysuckle in the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham last month, having taken the prize in 2020. Trainer Nicky Henderson also has Buveur D’Air, a dual Champion Hurdle winner and victorious in this race in 2017.

Gordon Elliott’s Zanahiyr, third in this season’s Champion Hurdle, also has yet to tackle this distance, while last year’s Triumph Hurdle first and second, Quilixios and Adagio, are among the 10 entries completed by Brewin’upastorm, Glory And Fortune, Guard Your Dreams, McFabulous and Monmiral.

Epatante, left, and Not So Sleepy, right, hit the line together in the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle
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Epatante, left, and Not So Sleepy, right, hit the line together in the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle

Clan Des Obeaux will face a maximum of 10 rivals should he bid for back-to-back victories in the Betway Bowl. The Paul Nicholls-trained dual King George VI Chase winner bypassed Cheltenham to wait for this and he could renew rivalry with Kemboy, who was successful in 2019 for Willie Mullins.

Dan Skelton’s Protektorat and Royal Pagaille, from Venetia Williams’ stable, were third and fifth respectively in the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Irish Gold Cup hero Conflated (Elliott) was a faller in the Ryanair Chase, while Nigel Twiston-Davies’ popular grey Bristol De Mai is another contender.

Eldorado Allen, Itchy Feet, Fakir D’oudairies, Nuts Well and Paint The Dream add further strength in depth. Bravemansgame, a late withdrawal at Cheltenham due to the rain-softened ground, heads 12 entries for the SSS Super Alloys Manifesto Novices’ Chase.

Zanahiyr ran out an impressive winner of the WKD Hurdle at Down Royal last month
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Zanahiyr ran out an impressive winner of the WKD Hurdle at Down Royal

He is unbeaten in four starts over fences and is one of two possibles from the Nicholls yard along with Pic D’orhy. Henry de Bromhead’s Gin On Lime – a remarkable winner of a two-horse race at Cheltenham in November – is the sole Irish entry while Colin Tizzard has three – Elixir De Nutz, The Widow Maker and War Lord.

The fourth Grade One on the card, the Jewson Anniversary 4-Y-O Juvenile Hurdle, has attracted 15 entries. They include Pied Piper, who was third in the Triumph Hurdle for the Elliott team. Also in the Irish party is the Padraig Roche-trained Brazil, winner of the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle at Cheltenham.

Milton Harris’ five-time hurdle winner Knight Salute and Jonjo O’Neill’s unbeaten Petit Tonnerre also feature. Winged Leader, who was agonisingly touched off at Cheltenham, is among 28 confirmations for the Randox Foxhunters’ Open Hunters’ Chase.

Davy Russell riding Pied Piper
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Davy Russell riding Pied Piper to victory at Cheltenham

David Christie’s seven-year-old bids for handsome consolation after being worn down in the dying strides by Billaway in the St. James’s Place Festival Challenge Cup.

Christie also has Vaucelet. The Elliott-trained Mighty Stowaway, third in the Cheltenham race, is in the list along with last year’s winner Cousin Pascal, Jett, Le Breuil, Porlock Bay and the Nicholls pair of Bob And Co and Cat Tiger.

Giving the latest on ground conditions, clerk of the course Sulekha Varma said: “We changed the going today (Friday) to good on the Mildmay and hurdle courses and good, good to soft in places on the Grand National course.

Winged Leader and Barry O'Neill lands over the last fence before going on to win at Down Royal
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Winged Leader and Barry O’Neill lands over the last fence before going on to win at Down Royal

“Throughout March, we only saw 14mm of rain and put down 25 to 30mm of irrigation across all courses between March 22 and 29. We did not water yesterday or on Wednesday due to rain being forecast but in the end that did not really materialise – there was just 1mm on Wednesday and a sleety shower yesterday, which did not have any measurable effect.

“We are therefore recommencing watering today, with 5mm set to be applied to all courses and we will continue to monitor the situation going forward to maintain conditions.

“The forecast is looking somewhat uncertain, with the chance of some damper conditions next week – Monday and Wednesday are currently predicted to be the days with the highest chance of rain.”

She added: “I am very happy with where we are at the moment and the turf is looking incredible. We have done most of the work in preparing the racing surface for next week and are now in the stage of maintaining it and applying the finishing touches.”



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