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Nicky Henderson duo Epatante & Buveur d'Air among 27 for Unibet Champion Hurdle

The Cheltenham Festival kicks off on March 16 with four days of action

Epatante on the way to victory in 2020 Pic: Cheltenham
Epatante on the way to victory in 2020 Pic: Cheltenham

SEVEN Barrows trainer Nicky Henderson has entered duo Epatante and Buveur d’Air into the Unibet Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.

The iconic four-day meeting is scheduled to begin on Tuesday, March 16 and the championship contest for two-mile hurdlers is the highlight of day one at The Festival.

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, which includes 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.

Ed Nicholson, Head of Unibet Racing Communications and Sponsorship, said: “We’re delighted with the quality of entries for the 2021 Unibet Champion Hurdle.

“Two previous Unibet Champion Hurdle winners are entered in Epatante and Buveur d’Air, as well as the winners of three of our ‘20/21 Road to Cheltenham sponsored contests in Sceau Royal (Unibet Elite Hurdle), Song For Someone (Unibet International Hurdle) and Abacadabras (Unibet Morgiana Hurdle).”

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

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 on Thursday (tomorrow).

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