Henderson has a nap-hand in opening day's feature race

Trainer Nicky Henderson has five of the 19 entries for the £450,000 Grade 1 Unibet Champion Hurdle at next week's Cheltenham Festival.

By Steve Smith
Thursday, 5th March 2020, 1:54 pm
Updated Thursday, 5th March 2020, 1:56 pm
All systems go for Cheltenham next week
All systems go for Cheltenham next week

The countdown to The Festival™ presented by Magners intensifies with the six-day confirmations for all seven races on day one of the meeting.

Henderson accounts for five of the 19 entries in the feature race. His team is led by Unibet's 3/1 favourite Epatante, who is bidding to become the fifth mare to win the two-mile hurdling championship, and last year's Grade 1 JCB Triumph Hurdle victor Pentland Hills.

Henderson is also set to run Grade 2 Unibet International Hurdle victor Call Me Lord, Fussil Raffles and Verdana Blue, as he seeks an unprecedented eighth victory in the race.

The Irish challenge is headed by Cilaos Emery (Willie Mullins IRE), who has been supplemented at a cost of £22,500 after successfully reverting to hurdles at Gowran Park last month.

Darver Star was third in the Grade 1 Royal Bond Novice Hurdle at Fairyhouse in December and made a promising transition to open company when going down by a half-length in the G1 Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown on 1 February.

Trainer Gavin Cromwell, who landed the Unibet Champion Hurdle in 2019 with 16/1 chance Espoir D'Allen, said: "Darver Star is on course for the Unibet Champion Hurdle. He had a racecourse gallop at Leopardstown on Monday and I am very pleased with him going into the race.

"It looks wide open and I think Cheltenham will suit him. He is the same sort of price as Espoir D'Allen was last year.

"He stays, travels and jumps well. I think he will be staying on up the hill strongly and hopefully he has a live chance."