Having been dealt the blow of Altior’s defection from Wednesday’s Champion Chase, the spirits of everyone involved with Nicky Henderson’s Seven Barrows stable were raised when Epatante took the Grade 1 Unibet Champion Hurdle in style at Cheltenham on Tuesday.

In capturing the two-mile prize, she became the fourth consecutive winner of the Champion Hurdle for her owner JP McManus, following Buveur D’Air’s successes in 2017 and 2018 along with the ill-fated Espoir D’Allen who was victorious last year.

Darver Star, who like Espoir D’Allen is trained by Gavin Cromwell, was in front as the field entered the home straight but Epatante’s class came to the fore as she produced a bold jump at the last to take the lead under Barry Geraghty.

There was no catching the daughter of No Risk At All and she finished three lengths clear of Sharjah, with a further three and a quarter lengths back to Darver Star in third.

All told it was a ninth success in the Grade 1 for McManus, who was celebrating his 69th birthday on Tuesday. He said: “We made the decision not to give her a run between Christmas and the Champion Hurdle then there was a bit of a hiccup with her a week or so ago.

“I was delighted Barry rode her with such confidence and bided his time.”

Henderson first captured this race in 1985 with See You Then and has now won it eight times. The trainer said: “It’s a nice race, isn’t it? It goes back such a long time since the first one.

“She was always travelling and you were always quite pleased with where she was. Barry gave her a beautiful ride. He always just had it covered and she has the gears.

“I was worried a bit after last year, when she didn’t run well in the mares’ novice hurdle, and she fell to pieces afterwards. She went home to JP at Martinstown – I sent her there looking awful and she came back looking fantastic, a million dollars.

“We have been very lucky to have these sort of good horses. JP should have had last year’s winner in the race [Espoir D’Allen] and Buveur D’Air, who is back at Martinstown with a hole in his foot, so this would have been his third string.

“She’s as good as she looked the only two times she’s run this year. The big worry was when she came here last year and I thought she’d win, and she didn’t show up. Sophie Candy riders her every single day of the year, and she deserves great credit.”

Barry Geraghty celebrates with Champion Hurdle trophy after Epatante’s success – Photo: George Selwyn

In the meeting’s opening race, the Grade 1 Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, Henderson was on the board thanks to Shishkin, who overcame trouble in an incident-packed renewal.

Until Tuesday, no horse that had won the Listed Sidney Banks Memorial Hurdle at Huntingdon had managed to be successful at the Festival. Shishkin’s chances of breaking that duck seemed unlikely when he had to avoid fallers two flights from home.

That left the Gordon Elliott-trained Abacadabras with the advantage after the final flight but Shishkin had hit another gear and began to motor up the hill under jockey Nico de Boinville, taking the lead in the final 100 yards to eventually win by a head.

The performance left Henderson, who drew level with Willie Mullins as the most successful trainer at the meeting, suitably impressed and said: “Shishkin has got those gears and he need them today to get out of the trouble he had got into.

“Nico has given the horse a wonderful ride and has done well to get out of there. I think we know he is pretty cool round here.”

De Boinville added: “Going down to that downhill hurdle he’s just had a grab at it and I’ve landed on all fours, really. From then on down the back it is really hard work – I’d say it [the ground] is almost on the heavy side.

“It was a very rough race. I got shuffled back; I got switched out wide just to try to get him travelling, give him a bit of light and a bit of comfort in himself. Then the horse fell in front of me and nearly knocked me over. Then it was just a case of trying to pick up the pieces.

“Everything that could go wrong did go wrong. It just shows what a fantastic horse this is going forward. He has got so much ability and is so talented. He has tremendous gears and got out of an awful lot of trouble.

“Wherever he goes next season, it might be that we’ve found another really good one.”

British-bred success with Honeysuckle

In the hotly billed clash between outstanding mares Benie Des Dieux and Honeysuckle, it was the latter who reigned supreme as she was a dominant winner of the Grade 1 Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle.

From the outset, jockey Rachael Blackmore kept Honeysuckle up with the pacesetters and kicked for home as the field turned into the straight. Despite the late challenge of Benie Des Dieux, Honeysuckle responded to every urge up the hill to win by half a length.

The success of Honeysuckle was a fillip for British breeding as she was bred at The Glanvilles Stud in Dorset by Dr Geoffrey Guy out of the Lando mare First Royal, and is by Yorton Farm Stud’s former resident Sulamani.

Blackmore said: “This means so much. This mare is so special – Colman does an unbelievable job with her and Emma looks after her at home as well. It’s those people you need on your side looking after a mare like this.

“They have done an unbelievable job with her. Henry [De Bromhead] has produced her in tip-top shape every day she has run. I am the lucky one who gets to steer her round.

“I was travelling well to the second-last and then became kind of forced in, but I knew that I had plenty of toe at the back of the last. It’s a big week and I am delighted. You kind of realise early in the day that these winners are so hard to get, so I am so lucky to be riding all these horses.

“It’s every jockey’s dream to be in the position I’m in, and Cheltenham is what it is all about.”

It was Henry de Bromhead’s second success of the day following Put The Kettle On’s front-running success in the Grade 1 Racing Post Arkle Chase, which saw her become the first mare to triumph in the race since Anaglogs Daughter in 1980.

Imperial Racing return to the winner’s enclosure

Ten years after Imperial Commander took home the Cheltenham Gold Cup, Imperial Racing were celebrating again at the Festival thanks to the Kim Bailey-trained Imperial Aura proving unbeatable in the Listed Northern Trust Company Novices’ Chase.

Having chased home Pym and Itchy Feet on his previous two starts, Imperial Aura cruised to the front in the home straight and with bold jumps at the final fences, put his rivals to the sword to win by three and a quarter lengths.

Elsewhere at Cheltenham on Tuesday, David Bridgwater celebrated a first success at the Festival thanks to The Conditional’s win in the Grade 3 Ultima Handicap Chase under Brendan Powell, while Gordon Elliott and Jamie Codd combined to win the National Hunt Challenge Cup with Ravenhill.