Epatante proved herself a mare out of the very top drawer with a hugely impressive display in the Ladbrokes Christmas Hurdle at Kempton.
The JP McManus-owned five-year-old disappointed when hot favourite for the mares’ novices’ hurdle at last season’s Cheltenham Festival, but dominated her rivals on her seasonal reappearance at Newbury last month — earning her this sharp rise in class.
Trainer Nicky Henderson fielded three runners in all as he went in search of a record ninth victory in the race, with 2/1 joint-favourites Epatante and Fusil Raffles joined by the defending champion Verdana Blue.
While Fusil Raffles was a spent force before the home turn, Barry Geraghty was still pulling double aboard Epatante and she shot clear once given her head to seal a five-length success.
Silver Streak was second, Ballyandy was third and Verdana Blue finished fourth.
Henderson said: “I’ve got to say I was a Fusil Raffles fan, but she (Epatante) was impressive. I’ve even got to admit it myself — she was very good.
“We’ve come straight from the Gerry Feilden at Newbury, which was a handicap. I wanted to go to Ascot last weekend, but JP wanted to come here and he was absolutely dead right.
“Going into Cheltenham last season I thought she was our best chance in the mares’ novice, but she didn’t run her race. She had done everything right up until then and has done everything right since.”
Paddy Power make Epatante their 7-2 favourite (from 16-1) for the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham in March.
Henderson added: “She is lovely and has a great temperament with a lovely attitude and she is a great jumper. I saw Barry for 30 seconds after the race and I said, ‘what next?’. He said ‘win the Champion Hurdle’, so I suppose that is what I better do!
“Does she need to do any more before then? I don’t know. We will think about it.”
Of his other runners, Henderson said: “Fusil Raffles was a bit keen and over-raced, but Verdana Blue has run a fantastic race. That is the best race she has run in soft ground and she might be going on her travels — there is a race in February over a mile and seven (furlongs) that is worth two million (in Saudi Arabia), but she has to get in.”