The highlight of Saturday’s card at Newcastle is the £110,000 Grade 1 Fighting Fifth Hurdle at 2.05. The race is a recognised trial for the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham in March and the roll of honour includes a host of familiar names.
Comedy Of Errors won the race for three successive seasons between 1972 and 1974. Birds Nest also won the race three times between 1976 and 1979, his victories interrupted by Sea Pigeon in 1978. In more recent times, notable winners include Harchibald (2004 and 2007), Overturn (2011), My Tent Or Yours (2013) and Irving (2014 and 2015). Irving’s attempt for a third victory was thwarted by reigning Champion hurdler Buveur D’Air 12 months’ ago.
Buveur D’Air is likely to start odds-on favourite to repeat that success as he goes in pursuit of a third Champion Hurdle. Nicky Henderson switched him back from a short spell over fences in 2016 and he has not looked back since, winning seven races including two Champion Hurdles. He was a brilliant five lengths winner in 2017 but was all out to get the better of Melon by a neck in March. The going was heavy that day and conditions on Saturday are expected to be no worse than soft.
The Champion won’t have things all his own way with leading Irish hope Samcro and Supreme Novices’ Hurdle winner Summerville Boy in the line-up. Samcro was surprisingly overturned by Bedrock at Down Royal in November. He is weighted to reverse the form on 5lbs better terms but it could be that he needs in excess of two miles to show his best form. Samcro’s Cheltenham win was over an extended two and a half miles in testing ground.
Iain Jardine’s Bedrock was a 12-1 outsider in the four-runner field in Ireland but kept the favourite at bay by a length and a half. The five-year-old has nothing to lose by taking him on again at Newcastle with Rachael Blackmore in the saddle.
Summerville Boy is an exciting prospect for Tom George. The Sandmason gelding beat Kalashnikov by four lengths at Sandown in January and beat the same rival by a neck at Cheltenham. The going was heavy on both occasions. He was beaten in his first three races over hurdles but clearly improved with experience.
Fighting Fifth Hurdle Betting Tips
BUVEUR D’AIR is the form horse, especially after Samcro’s shock defeat at Down Royal. Summerville Boy is a fascinating contender and could be one to follow this season.