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Epatante heads Fighting Fifth septet

Epatante heads Fighting Fifth septet

Epatante will face a maximum of six rivals when she defends her Betfair Fighting Fifth Hurdle crown at Newcastle on Saturday.

Winner of the 2020 Champion Hurdle, the Nicky Henderson-trained mare made her reappearance in the Gosforth Park feature 12 months ago, recording a stylish success over Sceau Royal.

The Alan King-trained Sceau Royal was last seen winning the Elite Hurdle at Wincanton and could reoppose.

Evan Williams’ Silver Streak was unceremoniously carried out by Not So Sleepy last year, but enjoyed a significant change in fortunes when subsequently beating Epatante in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton on Boxing Day.

Silver Streak and the Hughie Morrison-trained Not So Sleepy are in the field once again, and plenty of attention will surround Paul Nicholls’ Monmiral. The latter was a Grade One winner as a novice at the Aintree Grand National meeting and is co-owned by Sir Alex Ferguson.

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Elite Hurdle third Belfast Banter (Peter Fahey) is in line to renew rivalry with Sceau Royal, with Voix Du Reve (Iain Jardine) completing the list at the confirmation stage.

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Hamilton vs Verstappen heads Stateside: Danica’s big preview

Danica Patrick joins Sky Sports F1 for a big preview ahead of this weekend’s United States GP, discussing F1 Stateside, women in motorsport and Lewis Hamilton vs Max Verstappen; this weekend’s race all live on Sky F1, with Patrick part of our punditry team

By Matt Morlidge

Last Updated: 19/10/21 10:23am




Sky Sports F1’s newest recruit Danica Patrick says she has been engrossed by the title fight between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen and the “desperation and passion” shown by both drivers ahead of this weekend’s crucial United States GP.

Patrick, arguably motorsport’s greatest female driver as an IndyCar race-winner and NASCAR pole-sitter, is joining the Sky F1 team for the Circuit of the America’s event, the first of six rounds to finish the season.

In Texas, she will witness a championship battle first hand that has ebbed, flowed and often spilled over into controversy, and says she has loved what she has seen from drivers at different stages of their careers.

“I love that Max is this young driver and Lewis is the guy going for the official GOAT medal of most wins, most poles and most championships this year, so I’m sure he really wants to win his eighth,” Patrick told Sky Sports as part of her big preview for this weekend.

“Then you’ve got someone who’s just dying to make that not happen for him.”

Addressing their various crashes this year, Patrick insisted that “whenever there’s more on the line, there’s more risks taken”.

“So probably at the beginning of the season, Lewis was pretty used to winning and as it’s gone on and on, he’s been like ‘wow, you’ve gone on that stretch of track’,” she added. “He maybe knew that if he’s going to win that eighth championship, it’s not going to be so straightforward.

“You’re seeing more desperation and more passion. These are drivers that want the same thing and only one can have it.”

Patrick joined Sky Sports for an exclusive interview ahead of joining the team in Austin, discussing key topics such as Formula 1’s growing popularity in the United States, women in motorsport, and more…

F1 certainly seems to be growing in popularity Stateside. Why is that?

“The popularity in the States has definitely grown because of the Netflix series. Drive to Survive has been really, really popular and I’ve heard from so many people over the years, people saying ‘Hey, have you seen that? It’s so crazy and interesting, I had no idea!’

“There’s just a lot of people that have become aware of how intense Formula 1 is, the storylines, the controversy… they’ve created a story and that’s really what broadcasting or writing is all about. I think the Netflix series has probably been the most influential single thing to drum up popularity of F1 in the States in recent times.”

It helps showing off the drivers’ personalities too, right?

“Right. And I think that’s always what has helped me be a popular driver in my career, I always did interviews, people were interested to talk to me and so when I did that I showed more of my personality, people got to know me better and they were curious how I did.

“When they don’t know who to cheer for, when they don’t have a feel for your personality at all, you’re just simply watching cars go round.”

There will be a Miami GP and United States GP next year, making USA the only country with two races. Thoughts?

“I think it’s right on time when considering the popularity of F1 in the States. The more the better, if there are more F1 races here then it’s going to create more and more following here.”

Does the USA need a driver on the grid?

“I do think for it to become more of a cultural norm and a storyline that we follow here, whether it’s on ESPN or Fox Sports, or any of our sports networks, morning news, evening news, when they’re interviewing people… for it to become mainstream. you’re definitely going to need an American F1 driver.”

There are several young talents in IndyCar, could any of them switch over to F1?

“Sure! You don’t ever know how that transition is going to go, and especially in racing when the car matters, the team matters, the whole package itself matters. It’s really hard to know how that’s going to go and how someone is going to adapt to the situation, and so you’ve just got to give it a whirl.

“But I don’t think there’s anyone at the top level of any motorsport – IndyCar especially – that can’t do it. It’s just a matter of, are they going to be in a situation that’s going to offer them the opportunity to grow, to show their talents, are they going to be given the proper equipment and the right opportunity?

“And if they are then I can’t see any reason why they can’t do really well.”

Danica Patrick won an IndyCar series race in 2008, and is still the only woman to have done so

Let’s talk about you and F1. You were often linked with making the switch and there were rumours of a Honda test. What happened?

“There was never a test, and nobody actually ever called me! So I don’t know if this was just a PR stunt to try and create a little bit of a conversation around F1, but that never happened. That’s the real story of Danica and Formula 1…”

You raced the likes of Lewis Hamilton in the junior ranks, while today there is a W Series exclusively for women. What in your opinion is the best path for a female driver?

“Well, the same path for anyone. I don’t think there’s any special path for a girl versus a guy trying to get to the top, it’s really a matter of where do you feel like you can have the best results, show yourself, cultivate your talent and get the opportunities. That’s a hard road, for a guy and a girl.

“I don’t think that we’re ever going to see it 50-50, so I don’t know if that’s what people think should happen, half girls half guys, but it’s not a feminine sport. Just like there are sports where there are going to be more girls doing than guys, it’s the same thing. It falls into what comes naturally to someone.

“But over time I’m sure there will be more and more, as there are more women in the pit-lane there will be more women in the seat, more opportunities. But 50-50? That’s not going to happen.”

Is equality improving in motorsport, though?

“Totally. There are programmes to support it and there’s a narrative to support it, I think you see it more and more all the time. But these are big ships to turn. They have to be interested from a young age, too. As far as drivers go, you don’t just pluck someone when they hear a story and they’re like, ‘I’m 22, I’ll give that a try’. You need to be more like two!

“These things start really young, so it will be more interesting as this has been a common narrative for what, 15 years? What’s going to happen in the next 15?

“I also think that the best thing for motorsports is competition, it’s storylines, it’s rivalries. That’s for any sport, you see when there’s rivals and when it’s really close, coming down to the last lap, last race, end of the championship, that’s what makes people interested.

“Another reason why Formula 1 is probably gaining in popularity over here is because there’s a real race for the championship right now. Not only does the Netflix series help and it gets people exposed in the States that don’t know about it as much, but there’s something cool to follow. Any time there’s storylines to follow, it’s going to make more people interested.”

Speaking of rivalries… what have you made of Hamilton vs Verstappen?

“I think it’s cool – and it’s going to make me more interested to watch more of them! Because there’s something to watch.

“If I’m encapsulating the series – F1, Indycar and NASCAR let’s say – F1 it seems like it’s the manufacturers are what matters and everybody just kind of falls into line in the race, and then in IndyCar it can be a little bit more mixed up, maybe there’s a little bit more passing and then NASCAR there’s even more.

“So I love the fact that it’s not so straightforward this year, that you’ve got two teams going at it, which is cool because you don’t have to worry about any kind of team orders, any kind of c***, you’re just going to get the true duo happening.

“I think it makes it really interesting and I love that Max is this young driver, he’s been around for a few years for sure, but he’s still the young driver and Lewis is the guy going for the official GOAT medal of most wins, most poles and most championships this year, so I’m sure he really wants to win his eighth. Then you have got someone who’s just dying to make that not happen for him and he’s young and hungry. It’s very interesting to watch.”

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Sky F1’s Paul Di Resta was at the SkyPad to analyse the controversial collision between title rivals Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen, which saw both cars crash out
Sky F1’s Paul Di Resta was at the SkyPad to analyse the controversial collision between title rivals Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen, which saw both cars crash out

Has it gone too far at times this year?

“Whenever there’s more on the line there’s more risks taken. So probably at the beginning of the season, Lewis was pretty used to winning and as it’s gone on and on, he’s been like ‘wow, you’ve gone on that stretch of track’.

“He maybe knew that if he’s going to win that eighth championship, it’s not going to be so straightforward.

“You’re seeing more desperation and more passion. These are drivers that want the same thing and only one can have it. So you’re seeing more of the more competitive nature come out which is always exciting to watch as a fan.”

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Native Trail heads Dewhurst field

Native Trail will face seven rivals when he puts his unbeaten record on the line in the Darley Dewhurst Stakes at Newmarket on Saturday.

Since making an impressive start to his career at Sandown in June, Charlie Appleby’s colt has claimed a narrow victory in the Superlative Stakes on Newmarket’s July Course and run out an emphatic winner of the National Stakes at the Curragh.

The Oasis Dream colt is a hot favourite to follow in the hoofprints of the former Appleby-trained star Pinatubo, who won the National Stakes two years ago before following up on the Rowley Mile.

One of the biggest threats to Native Trail appears to be Roger Varian’s Bayside Boy, who lines-up off the back of a victory in the Champagne Stakes at Doncaster.

Irish hopes are carried by the Ger Lyons-trained Straight Answer, who was supplemented at the start of the week, and the once-raced maiden winner Glounthaune, who bids to provide Aidan O’Brien with an eighth Dewhurst success.

Hugo Palmer has not made any secret of the regard in which he holds Dubawi Legend, while Dave Loughnane’s Go Bears Go bids to make it third time lucky at Group One level after going close in the Phoenix Stakes and the Middle Park on his last couple of appearances.

Royal Ascot winner Berkshire Shadow (Andrew Balding) and Dhabab (John and Thady Gosden) complete the line-up.

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Ante-post favourite M C Muldoon is one of six runners for Willie Mullins in the Together For Racing International Cesarewitch.

The Closutton handler has saddled the last three winners of the prestigious staying handicap and appears intent on adding to his tally – with M C Muldoon joined by defending champion Great White Shark, Micro Manage, Whiskey Sour, Burning Victory and Foveros.

Mullins, no stranger to making history, is bidding to become the first trainer to win a fourth Cesarewitch since Matthew Dawson equalled William Day’s record in the race with Stone Clink in 1886.

He said: “Any of those long-distance handicaps are always a target. The prize-money has moved up significantly in the race as well, and chasing big prize-money is always another of our targets.

“With the two combined together, it becomes an obvious race to go for – and as we buy a lot of ex-Flat horses to go jumping, it is easy for them to switch back into a race like this.

“The Cesarewitch is something we can consider for a number of our horses, so we keep it in the back of our mind – and as the season goes on, we sharpen the focus a little bit more for the right ones.

“It is a privilege to have horses good enough to compete in these races and it would be an honour to equal the record. We are going to give it a good go with the team that we are bringing over.”

Of his runners, Mullins added: “M C Muldoon is in good shape, and I think that the track and trip will suit him. His last run over hurdles in Galway was a nice prep for this.

“The conditions of the races suited Burning Victory in France, and she will probably go back to France after this, then continue her hurdling career over the winter.

“Jason Watson gave Great White Shark a great ride in the race last year. It is going to be very tough for her to come back and be very competitive in a handicap like this after a bit of time off. She loves the track and will handle everything, so she takes her chance.

“It does seem like Whiskey Sour has been around forever, but he is still only eight and is in good shape. The trip and the ground won’t be any problem to him, so I hope he will run his usual good race.

“Foveros is an Authorized gelding that won in soft ground at Longchamp before he came to us. He ran a great race in Galway. That run puts him well in here with a chance off 8st 3lb.

“Micro Manage would definitely have the ability, and I think he should stay the trip. He might want to settle a little better, and he needs to learn a little bit more about racing.”

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Prolific juvenile Chipotle heads for sales this month

Eve Johnson Houghton’s durable two-year-old Chipotle is heading to the sales this month.

The son of Havana Gold has been a real success story this season, having been bought for just 10,000 guineas.

He won the Brocklesby on the opening day of the Flat season at Doncaster, where his trainer was at pains to state he was far from just an early type – and how right she was.

Chipotle went on to win the Windsor Castle Stakes at Royal Ascot – and on his ninth run of the season on Saturday, he landed Redcar’s Listed Two Year Old Trophy, which is likely to be his last for his adoring trainer.

“He has danced every dance,” said Johnson Houghton.

“I probably should have put him up to six furlongs earlier than I did. I regretted running him at Doncaster (in the Flying Childers), because by then I knew he wanted six.

“I think he’ll improve again for going up to six furlongs, and he’s really tough.

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“It’s rare for a horse to do what he’s done, win the Brocklesby, at Ascot and still be winning in October – but he’s pretty good.”

Unfortunately for Johnson Houghton, however, he now has a date at the sales.

“There’s nothing left this year for him, and he was bought for a two-year-old syndicate, so he’s got to go to the sales unfortunately,” said Johnson Houghton.

“That was the name of the game when we bought him. Some of them might get together and buy him back, I don’t know, but his next appointment is in the sale.

“It’s not a bad way to sign off anyway – he’s done them proud.”

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