The latest ante-post odds show Epatante is the favourite to win the Betfair Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle later this month. But could Cornerstone Lad pull of another upset? Max Liu reports...
"Cornerstone Lad is 12/1 to win again this time. He's had two starts on the Flat in preparation for his title defence, most recently making all to win a 14-furlong handicap at Redcar on November 3."
Champion Hurdle heroine Epatante is the odds-on antepost favourite to win the Group 1 Betfair Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle on Saturday November 28.
Nicky Henderson's six-year-old heads a list of 17 entries for the two-mile highlight which will be the first G1 hurdle race of the Jump season in Britain and carries a total prize fund of £80,000.
Epatante, who is 8/11 with Betfair, is reportedly on course to begin her campaign at Newcastle and will be aiming to give Henderson a sixth win in the race.
His previous winners included fellow Champion Hurdle scorers Punjabi (2008) and Buveur D'Air (2017 & 2018). Interestingly, the master of Seven Barrows has also entered Marie's Rock 20/1, the winner of a bumper and two hurdle races from as many starts.
Cornerstone Lad 12/1 for back-to-back wins
Cornerstone Lad caused a 16/1 shock in last year's Betfair Fighting Fifth Hurdle, when he edged out hot favourite Buveur D'Air and Silver Streak (Evan Williams) in a thrilling finish.
Cornerstone Lad is 12/1 to win again this time. He's had two starts on the Flat in preparation for his title defence, most recently making all to win a 14-furlong handicap at Redcar on November 3.
Five horses have won back-to-back runnings of the Betfair Fighting Fifth Hurdle, though Buveur D'Air was the first to do so since Dato Star (1998 & 1999).
Cornerstone Lad's trainer Micky Hammond said of the six-year-old: "He's in great form and firmly on course for the Betfair Fighting Fifth Hurdle.
"It was fantastic to win the race last year and it gave us one of the biggest days in my training career.
"After the Fighting Fifth, we are strongly considering going over fences with him. He had a lovely summer out in the paddocks and then came back and has already had two spins on the Flat.
"He ran really well at Redcar in October to be fourth and then I was delighted with his latest effort earlier this month. Those two runs have left him spot on for the Fighting Fifth and he is primed to go."
Four-year-old Goshen 11/2 has also run twice on the Flat this autumn, latterly finishing third in a handicap at Goodwood on October 11. Gary Moore's stable star looked set for a very impressive victory until unseating his rider at the last in the G1 JCB Triumph Hurdle, his most recent start over obstacles.
Elliott's Abacadabras leads Irish charge
G1 Supreme Novices' Hurdle second Abacadabras, which regular readers will know is trained by Betfair Ambassador Gordon Elliott, and Jason The Militant of Henry de Bromhead's stable, are among three Irish-trained entries. They finished second and third respectively behind Aspire Tower in the G2 WKD Hurdle at Down Royal on October 30.
Wind surgery coupled with a return to hurdling has breathed a new lease of life into Sceau Royal (Alan King). The eight-year-old defeated Ballyandy (Nigel Twiston-Davies) in the Welsh Champion Hurdle limited handicap at Ffos Las on October 18 and impressed again with a smooth success in the G2 Elite Hurdle at Wincanton on November 7.
Ribble Valley (Nicky Richards) is another who underwent wind surgery during the summer. He made light work of the opposition in an intermediate hurdle at Carlisle on October 22, his fifth win from seven career starts. Richards won the Betfair Fighting Fifth Hurdle with The French Furze in 2003. Famously, The French Furze ran in the race every year from 2000 to 2007 and is commemorated with the Sky Sports Racing Sky 415 'The French Furze' Novices' Hurdle on the same day.
Betfair Fighting Fifth Hurdle latest ante-post odds
7/1 Abacadabras, Sceau Royal
10/1 Silver Streak
11/1 Ribble Valley
12/1 Cornerstone Lad
14/1 Song For Someone
20/1 Main Fact, Marie's Rock, Not So Sleepy
33/1 Jason The Militant
80/1 Solo Saxophone
100/1 Millers Bank
150/1 Voix Du Reve