Nicky Henderson announced on Tuesday that Aidan Coleman is to ride JP McManus’s reigning Champion Hurdler, Epatante, this season. Coleman was touted as a possible replacement as McManus’s principal jockey in Britain when Barry Geraghty retired in July but the owner is using a ‘stable jockey’ or ‘best available’ policy and Coleman has since joined Olly Murphy as first jockey. However he has picked up the best ‘spare ride’ in the country. “It is part of a plan,” said Henderson. “JP has a lot of horses and Aidan is going to be riding a few of them. There is no particular retained jockey in this country. Aidan won the Gerry Feilden on her last year so he has ridden her before.” The mare was one of a number of Henderson stars, including her work partner Altior, staying chasers Santini and Beware the Bear, and up-and-coming hurdlers Marie’s Rock and Floressa, who galloped at Newbury’s now traditional ‘gallops day’ ahead of the Ladbrokes Trophy on Saturday week. Epatante will start off in the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle on the same day before heading to Kempton for the Christmas Hurdle. “This time last year Epatante was heading for the Gerry Feilden off a rating of 135, it wasn’t telling you she was about to become Champion,” added Henderson. “It was JP’s call to go straight to the Christmas Hurdle last year - I thought it was an ambitious stepping stone!” He also reported that Buveur D’Air, the former champion, was ahead of schedule after the hoof injury he sustained in the Fighting Fifth a year ago. “Where we start I’ve no idea, but after Christmas it will be for him to state his case.” Altior, who missed Cheltenham last spring with a splint problem, will start off in the Tingle Creek a fortnight on Saturday. “The spark is there. Nico (de Boinville) was delighted with his gallop. He’s not a natural lead horse but there’s nothing else to go with Epatante and they compliment each other.” Santini did himself a bit too well in the summer and is being prepared for the Many Clouds at Aintree on December 5. His primary aim is the Gold Cup, in which he finished second in March, while his work partner, Beware the Bear, will try and better his brace of fourths in the Ladbrokes Gold Cup. Also having a work-out ahead of the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury was Emma Lavelle’s Paisley Park. After disappointing while trying to defend the Stayers Hurdle, he was found to have an irregular heartbeat but there did not look much wrong with him on Tuesday. “He was a bit calmer today than when he came to this day last year!” said Lavelle whose De Rasher Counter will not defend his Ladbroke after being ruled out for the season with a tendon problem. “We keep him monitored but he’s had no issue since Cheltenham. He’s in a great place mentally. Putting them in the horsebox and coming to the racecourse for a gallop is like three bits of work at home.”
Dharma Rain, ridden by Jack Tudor, was seventh when she passed the post but stewards stripped victory away from Just Henny and disqualified the rest for failing to jump the third-last hurdle where a horse Bluebell Sally had pulled up injured.
There are a few old Festival rivalries that will be renewed at Cheltenham over the next three days, but none more mouth-watering than that between Tiger Roll and Easysland in the Glenfarclas Cross-Country Chase, the feature of what would normally be Countryside Day. With two Grand Nationals already in the bag, Tiger Roll needs no introduction and although he’s regarded as a regular cross-country specialist - having won two Glenfarclas Cross-Countrys at the Festival - he has traditionally struggled in these races when, as it is on Friday, it has been a handicap rather than level weights. In March, a difficult preparation, heavy ground and a new kid on the cross-country scene - none other than Easysland - saw him finish tired and beaten by 17 lengths. Even his trainer Gordon Elliott conceded it would have been hard to get him back after that for the subsequently cancelled National. But Friday is slightly different; the ground will be more suitable and he has had a run (on the flat, while Easysland has not. But he still has to concede 4lbs to a horse who beat him a street at the Festival at levels. It looks a hard task. As for Easysland, having been bought by JP McManus he went to Martinstown in Ireland for his summer. He has an unbeaten record stretching 22 months and while he will be fit, trainer David Cottin’s partner Amanda said that this is not his main objective this term - defending his title in March and the Grand National are his aims. That may be so but he has so much class in this discipline he will, nevertheless, be hard to beat. A third horse with National aspirations is last year’s Welsh National winner Potters Corner. He is getting a lot of weight from both horses but horses rarely win round this course on their cross-country debut. It normally takes a go to get fully switched on to it. If there is a surprise it might be Easysland’s stable companion and experienced cross-country horse Vino Royal despite being a long way out of the handicap. There was drama after Taunton’s first ever race televised by ITV on Thursday when Alexander Thorne, the winning conditional rider on Twin Star, failed to weigh in. He was given a 21-day ban, Twin Star was disqualified and Robinshill promoted to first. Usually a jockey has no choice but to walk back past the scale on the way back to the changing room but due to Covid regulations jockeys have been changing elsewhere at Taunton.
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