LONDON, United Kingdom (AFP) – An impressive Epatante justified favouritism to give owner JP McManus a ninth Champion Hurdle on his 69th birthday on the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival on Tuesday.
The mare stormed clear after the last under Barry Geraghty to hit the bookmakers where it hurts and prevail at 2/1 to become the fifth mare to win the race.
For 40-year-old Irishman Geraghty it was a fourth win and for trainer Nicky Henderson a record-extending eighth victory.
“It is a nice race is it not,” said a beaming Henderson.
“It goes such a long way back which I think was 1985 (See You Then). It’s a long time.
“It might be nuts to be winning an eighth but we have been very lucky to have these horses,” added the 69-year-old.
Geraghty had Epatante beautifully positioned throughout the two mile (3200 metres) race never allowing her to drift too far back in the 17 runner field.
Although Willie Mullins’s Sharjah looked dangerous coming to the final hurdle Geraghty had an extra gear and pulled clear to take the £265,000 ($340,000) winner’s cheque — in what was McManus’s fourth successive win in the race.
“I thought it would be too slow for her when I rode in the first,” said Geraghty.
“But every step of the way she was a dream and coming to the last all the lights were green.”
Sharjah under Patrick Mullins took second with another Irish runner Darver Star third for last year’s winning trainer Gavin Cromwell.
“Sharjah ran a blinder and for five strides after the last I dared to dream but in the end we were beaten fair and square,” said Mullins.