Barry Geraghty: Epatante can beat Honeysuckle in Champion Hurdle – but conditions are key

Legendary former jockey Barry Geraghty thinks Epatante has gone to another level over the last 12 months.

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Barry Geraghty is backing Epatante to retain her Champion Hurdle crown at this year’s Cheltenham Festival – if the ground plays into her hands.

The 2020 winner is the second fav in Paddy’s antepost markets with only Honeysuckle ahead in the betting. The Champion Hurdle is Epatante’s only entry this year while Honeysuckle is also in the market for the Mares Hurdle.

Geraghty rode Epatante to glory 12 months ago in what turned out to be his final Festival as a jockey. And he thinks the Nicky Henderson trained filly has come on leaps and bounds since then.

“Epatante can improve,” Geraghty explained to Ruby Walsh and Paddy Power on our special Cheltenham Rewind show. “Physically now she’s twice the size [compared to last year]. Can she beat Honeysuckle? I fancy her, definitely. But if Honeysuckle gets good ground I don’t fancy Epatante at all.

“It’s the same with Goshen, she’s a good-ground horse. If you watch the replay of Annie Power’s Champion Hurdle, on that ground, Honeysuckle, I can’t fancy her. On this course, especially. On the other course you can make a case.

“But I don’t think Epatante has the natural fitness that Annie Power had to put in a performance like last year on good ground.”

WATCH THE FULL SHOW BELOW: Ruby and Barry sit down with Paddy Power to discuss their favourite Cheltenham memories

Geraghty signed off at Cheltenham in style, winning five races in 2020 to cement his spot in second behind Ruby as the jockey with the most wins at The Festival. And the King of Cheltenham was curious about his compatriot’s mindset after crossing the line on Epatante last year.

“You’ve won the Champion Hurdle, did you ever think, just get off this and walk away?” Ruby asked.

“No, I still had the rest of the week ahead of me,” Barry continues, “I think I only had 11 rides, but they were good rides. I had five winners from 11 rides. I wasn’t wishing it away.

“I was thinking about Punchestown as well so there’s a bit of greed. I wanted to get to May and then I could kick back but, as it turned out, it was as good a way as any. I knew going into The Festival [I was retiring] but told a few friends on Thursday evening that this was the lap of honour.

WATCH: Ruby Walsh recalls his first Festival winner in our Cheltenham Rewind special

Champ Barry Geraghty Cheltenham March 11, 2020

“The way it turned out was ideal and Saint Roi was the last ride [winning the County Handicap Hurdle]. My emotion getting off a horse for the last time at Cheltenham? Satisfaction.

“You’ve gone to your final one and to bag the Champion Hurdle, one of the big ones, to have that in the bag and then to follow up with four more – you know you’re not going to get any better than that. It was the perfect way to finish.

“Three weeks after I’m going, ‘Do I really need to retire?’ But two weeks further on I was thinking, ‘No, you’ll never sign off on a better note.’ So it worked well for me to have enough time to digest it. It was the perfect way to end.”

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