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Epatante faces five rivals in Fighting Fifth defence

Thu 25 Nov 2021

Last year’s winner Epatante heads a field of six for the Betfair Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle on Saturday.

The 2020 Champion Hurdle heroine, trained by Nicky Henderson, comfortably took the prize by four and a quarter lengths from Sceau Royal last term.

Alan King’s nine-year-old has race fitness on his side this time, having won a Listed contest at Kempton and the Elite Hurdle at Wincanton this autumn as he seeks to reverse that form.

Evan Williams will be hoping for better luck with Silver Streak, who was taken out at the second flight by the loose Not So Sleepy in this race 12 months ago. The grey has had the advantage of a run this season, finishing second to Sceau Royal at Kempton.

Hughie Morrison gives Not So Sleepy the chance to redeem himself on the back of a run on the Flat at Doncaster five weeks ago.

“He’s going to go and have a day out at Newcastle. Hopefully, he’ll behave better this time. He hadn’t jumped a hurdle for a while, like he hasn’t this time, but he’s always been one that has a look around when he’s doing something new,” said Morrison.

“Hopefully he’ll be better this time now he knows the geography of the place a bit better.”

Monmiral had a tremendous first campaign over hurdles for trainer Paul Nicholls. The four-year-old won all his four starts, culminating in the Grade One Juvenile Hurdle at Aintree.

Nicholls accepts it is a big ask at this stage of his career but he could not be happier with him.

“He’s schooled this morning. He’s in good order. I’m looking forward to the challenge,” said the Ditcheat handler.

“It’s a step up in class for him, obviously, from what he’s been running in but he couldn’t have done more. He’s won all his completed starts.

“The form from Aintree has turned out well but it’s another step up in class for him. It is hard, that second year for four-year-olds. They don’t get any allowance over hurdles so he has to be at the top of his game and improve from last year.”

The Iain Jardine-trained Voix De Reve, fourth last year, completes the line-up. Belfast Banter was the only withdrawal at the 48-hour final declaration stage.

Newcastle officials are bracing themselves for a stormy spell of weather ahead of their big meeting. As much as 20 millimetres of rain could fall overnight on Friday and into Saturday, coupled with strengthening winds.

Clerk of the course James Armstrong described the ground as good, good to soft in places on Thursday but expects conditions to have eased come the first race at 11.45am on Saturday.

“It’s been pretty well publicised the weather has been fairly iffy on and off all week. The forecast has been changing every day but the latest forecast is we are due more rain starting tomorrow, pretty heavy through Friday night into Saturday,” said Armstrong.

“We’re looking at anything between 10 and upwards of millimetres of rain. We could get up to 20mm. It looks more likely to be wintry, slushy stuff with us but on the higher ground over the Pennines they are taking about some quite significant snow.

“Thankfully we’re close to the coast but that leaves us a bit more vulnerable to the winds, so we’ve got a few things to contend with. We’ve got the wind to worry about but I think the issue regarding wintry showers is a less of a concern, thankfully, being closer to the coast.

“We started the week with good ground on Monday and have been watering away. We put on near 20mm on the home straight this week and between five and eight on the rest of the course.

“We’re good, good to soft in places and obviously any rain that comes via nature’s assistance in the next two days will see things ease, possibly a fair bit more. It could turn to good to soft, maybe easier, depending on how it falls and when.”

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