Epatante provides JP with perfect birthday present on the opening day

Epatante and Barry Geraghty hit the front before going on to win the Grade 1 Unibet Champion Hurdle
Epatante and Barry Geraghty hit the front before going on to win the Grade 1 Unibet Champion Hurdle

Barry Geraghty rode his fourth winner of the Grade 1 Unibet Champion Hurdle when guiding 2/1 favourite Epatante to victory.

It came on the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival where Geraghty success puts him alongside Tim Molony and Ruby Walsh in terms of victories in the hurdlers' championship. Epatante, who is trained by Nicky Henderson, provided the perfect 69th birthday present for for owner JP McManus.

He tracked leader Petit Mouchoir down the hill and then asked Epatante to quicken past that horse and third-placed Darver Star heading to the final hurdle. She then held the late challenge of second-placed Sharjah, who she beat by three lengths. There was another three and three-quarters of a length back to Darver Star, who was two and three-quarters of a length ahead of fourth home Cilaos Emery.

Geraghty said: "I thought after riding Chantry House in the first race that the ground would be too slow for her and she would struggle. I was worried about it all week yet every step of the way, she was a dream. We missed one or two just because she was wanting to get on with it and trying to take them on, so I was always trying to keep a lid on her.

"I was a little concerned about the ground and I was hoping and praying all the way through the race that she would keep travelling for me. In fact it was the opposite, and she was taking on hurdles when I was asking her to pop. I needed to cover Darver Star coming down the hill and I was just happy to play her late. She quickened and is just a very smart filly.

"Nicky has done brilliantly with her, as has Sophie Candy, who looks after her. The mare has improved no end since Christmas, but Sophie has waited on her every day. She's in with her ten days a week! Minding her and minding her, and it's that love and care and attention to detail which makes a difference. There is no better trainer of a Champion Hurdler or any Cheltenham winner than Nicky Henderson - he is unbelievable.

"There are always a lot of decisions to be made in the run up to a race and thankfully, they went right, as they can often go wrong.

"JP is sourcing this talent and he supports the game at every level. The birthday cheer he got today reflects what people think of him because he is a top-class man."