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Epatante & Buveur d'Air among 27 for Champion Hurdle

Entries were unveiled on Wednesday for the G1 Unibet Champion Hurdle, the championship contest for two-mile hurdlers and the highlight of day one at The Festival™ presented by Magners, Tuesday, 16 March.

Reigning champion trainer Nicky Henderson is the most successful handler of all time in the Unibet Champion Hurdle with eight victories - See You Then (1985, 1986, 1987), Punjabi (2009), Binocular (2010), Buveur d'Air (2017, 2018) and Epatante (2020). The two most recent of Henderson’s winners are entered once again – last season’s hero Epatante and Buveur d’Air, who was successful in 2017 and 2018. Lambourn-based Henderson is responsible for six of the 27 entries in total, more than any other handler in 2021, with his sextet also including Buzz, Call Me Lord, Marie’s Rock and Verdana Blue.

Epatante, the 9/4 favourite with Unibet, became the fifth mare to win the Unibet Champion Hurdle in 2020 and began her season well with victory in the G1 Betfair Fighting Fifth Hurdle on 28 November, defeating Sceau Royal (Alan King) and Ribble Valley (Nicky Richards). The seven-year-old suffered a reversal last time out however when runner-up to Silver Streak (Evan Williams) in the G1 Ladbrokes Christmas Hurdle at Kempton Park on Boxing Day. Buveur d’Air, now a 10-year-old, has been off the track since sustaining an injury in the 2019 Fighting Fifth Hurdle, with Henderson mentioning the Listed Virgin Bet Contenders Hurdle at Sandown Park on 6 February as a possible comeback race. Both horses are owned by J P McManus, the most successful owner ever in the Unibet Champion Hurdle with an amazing nine wins. 

 Epatante leads the way home in 2020, picture Cheltenham Racecourse

Tom Symonds was once assistant trainer to Henderson but is now flying high as a trainer in his own right. His entry is Song For Someone, who has impressively won his last three starts, all of which have come in G2 company. After finishing the 2019/20 campaign with victory in the rearranged Betway Kingwell Hurdle at Kempton in February, the six-year-old began this season with success in the Coral Hurdle at Ascot in November before recording his first Cheltenham victory in the Unibet International Hurdle on 12 December, when he prevailed by a nose from Silver Streak.

Herefordshire-based Symonds reported: “Song For Someone is in great form and the plan would be to either run in the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham or the Aintree Hurdle. We have entered him in the Champion Hurdle and we will make a decision nearer the time.

“I am absolutely thrilled with him at home. He is very well and seems to have come out of the International in great form.

“There are three races we are currently weighing up with one of them acting as his prep before one of the big spring festivals.

“He could go to Haydock for The New One Unibet Hurdle a week on Saturday, the Contenders Hurdle at Sandown Park or the Kingwell at Wincanton.

“I think the weather will play a big part as to what race he actually runs in and I am not really leaning to any of them at the moment. We will enter him in the three races as they come along and then decide where to go.

“I was absolutely delighted with his win at Cheltenham and despite the circumstances, it was great to see him prove his liking of the track.

“It was obviously nobody’s fault that they didn’t jump the hurdles in the home straight, but that would not have suited him as he is such a good jumper.

“The fact he still managed to win was great and it clearly showed that Cheltenham suits him.

“The Champion Hurdle is firmly in the picture and it would be great to have a runner in a championship race like that.

“It is great to have a horse like him.”

The Unibet Champion Hurdle has been won by Irish-trained horses on 23 occasions and there are 12 Irish-trained contenders for 2021. The pick of them at this stage looks to be Sharjah (Willie Mullins), who was the three-length runner-up behind Epatante in 2020 and recently confirmed his wellbeing with a comfortable victory over Aspire Tower (Henry de Bromhead) and Petit Mouchoir (Gordon Elliott) in the G1 Matheson Hurdle at Leopardstown on 29 December. Mullins’ five entries also include Saint Roi, comfortable winner of the G3 Randox Health County Hurdle at The Festival™ in 2020 but a disappointing fourth behind Sharjah last time out at Leopardstown.

Other leading Irish-trained contenders include Abacadabras (Gordon Elliott), winner of the G1 Unibet Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown in November, and the mare Honeysuckle (Henry de Bromhead), a five-time G1 winner including in the Close Brothers Mares' Hurdle at The Festival™ last season.

An interesting entry is Winston C (Keri Brion USA). Formerly a smart performer both on the Flat for Michael Bell and over hurdles for Harry Fry in the UK, the seven-year-old won two G1 contests at Saratoga, USA, in the summer of 2019 for US Hall of Fame trainer Jonathan Sheppard, earning an Eclipse Award. Following Sheppard’s retirement at the start of this year, Winston C is now in the care of Sheppard’s former assistant Keri Brion and part of her six-strong team based at Baltimore Stable in Enniscorthy, County Wexford. His intended European debut will be at Navan in a Grade B handicap hurdle on 23 January.

There is a scratchings deadline for the Unibet Champion Hurdle on 9 February, with the six-day confirmation stage and supplementary entry stage following on 10 March.

Entries for the other two G1 championship hurdle races at The Festival™ - the Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle and the Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle – will be revealed tomorrow, Thursday, 14 January.

UNIBET CHAMPION HURDLE (Grade 1)  

Abacadabras (FR) 7 11 10 Gigginstown House Stud Gordon Elliott IRE

Aspire Tower (IRE) 5 11 10 Robcour Henry de Bromhead IRE
 
Ballyandy (GB) 10 11 10 Options O Syndicate Nigel Twiston-Davies 

Beacon Edge (IRE) 7 11 10 Gigginstown House Stud Noel Meade IRE
 
Buveur d'Air (FR) 10 11 10 Mr John P. McManus Nicky Henderson 

Buzz (FR) 7 11 10 Thurloe for Royal Marsden Cancer Charity Nicky Henderson 

Call Me Lord (FR) 8 11 10 Mr Simon Munir & Mr Isaac Souede Nicky Henderson 

Coeur Sublime (IRE) 6 11 10 C. Jones Gearoid O'Loughlin IRE
 
For Pleasure (IRE) 6 11 10 Premier Plastering (UK) Limited Alex Hales 

Goshen (FR) 5 11 10 Mr Steven Packham Gary Moore 

James du Berlais (FR) 5 11 10 Mr Simon Munir/Mr Isaac Souede W. P. Mullins IRE

Jason The Militant (IRE) 7 11 10 Mr Peter Michael Henry de Bromhead IRE

Not So Sleepy (GB) 9 11 10 Lady Blyth Hughie Morrison 

Petit Mouchoir (FR) 10 11 10 Noel Moran/Mrs Valerie Moran Gordon Elliott IRE
 
Ribble Valley (IRE) 8 11 10 Mr David Wesley Yates Nicky Richards 

Saint Roi (FR) 6 11 10 Mr John P. McManus W. P. Mullins IRE
 
Saldier (FR) 7 11 10 Mrs S. Ricci W. P. Mullins IRE

Sceau Royal (FR) 9 11 10 Mr Simon Munir & Mr Isaac Souede Alan King 

Sharjah (FR) 8 11 10 Mrs S. Ricci W. P. Mullins IRE

Silver Streak (IRE) 8 11 10 Mr L. Fell Evan Williams 

Song For Someone (GER) 6 11 10 Sir Peter & Lady Gibbings Tom Symonds 

Winston C (IRE) 7 11 10 Hudson River Farms LLC Keri Brion USA

Concertista (FR) 7 11 3 Mr Simon Munir/Mr Isaac Souede W. P. Mullins IRE

Epatante (FR) 7 11 3 Mr John P. McManus Nicky Henderson 

Honeysuckle (GB) 7 11 3 Mr K. Alexander Henry de Bromhead IRE

Marie's Rock (IRE) 6 11 3 Middleham Park Racing XLII Nicky Henderson 

Verdana Blue (IRE) 9 11 3 Mrs Doreen Tabor Nicky Henderson 

27 entries
12 Irish-trained
1 USA-trained

The Festival™ presented by Magners 2021 

Day One – Tuesday 16th March (Old Course)                              
13:30 Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle Race (Grade 1) 2m ½f
14:10 Sporting Life Arkle Challenge Trophy Steeple Chase (Grade1) 2m
14:50 Ultima Handicap Steeple Chase (Grade 3) 3m 1f
15:30 Unibet Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy (Grade 1) 2m ½f 
16:10 Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle Race (Grade 1) 2m 4f
16:50 Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle Race (Grade 3) 2m ½f
17:30 National Hunt Steeple Chase Challenge Cup (Amateur Riders’ Novices’ Steeple Chase) (Grade 2) 3m 6f
     
Day Two – Wednesday 17th March (Old Course & Cross Country)
13:30 Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle Race (Grade 1) 2m 5f
14:10 Festival Novices’ Steeple Chase (Grade 1) 3m ½f
14:50 Coral Cup Hurdle (A Handicap Hurdle Race) (Grade 3) 2m 5f
15:30 Betway Queen Mother Champion Steeple Chase (Grade 1) 2m
16:10 Glenfarclas Cross Country Steeple Chase 3m 6f
16:50 Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Handicap Steeple Chase Challenge Cup (Grade 3) 2m
17:30 Weatherbys Champion Bumper (A Standard Open NH Flat Race) (Grade 1) 2m ½f

Day Three – Thursday 18th March (New Course)
13:30 Marsh Novices’ Chase (Grade 1) 2m 4f
14:10 Pertemps Network Final (A Handicap Hurdle Race) (Listed) 3m
14:50 Ryanair Steeple Chase (Grade 1) 2m 5f
15:30 Paddy Power Stayers Hurdle Race (Grade 1) 3m 
16:10 Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate (A Handicap Steeple Chase) (Grade 3) 2m 5f
16:50 Daylesford Mares Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 2) 2m 1f
17:30 Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup Handicap Steeple Chase (0-145) 3m 2f

Day Four – Friday 19th March (New Course)
13:30 JCB Triumph Hurdle (Grade 1) 2m 1f
14:10 Randox Health County Handicap Hurdle Race (Grade 3) 2m 1f
14:50 Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle Race (Grade 1) 3m
15:30 Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup Steeple Chase (Grade 1) 3m 2½f
16:10 St. James’s Place Challenge Cup Hunter Steeple Chase 3m 2½f
16:50 Mrs Paddy Power Mares Steeple Chase (Grade 2) 2m 4f
17:30 Martin Pipe Conditional Jockey’s Handicap Hurdle Race (0-145) 2m 4½f

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