Betfair Fighting Fifth Hurdle: Five key trends and talking points

Nicky Henderson
Nicky Henderson is seeking a sixth win in the Betfair Fighting Fifth Hurdle

Did you know that three horses have been beaten at odds-on in the Betfair Fighting Fifth Hurdle since 2010? Timeform's Adam Houghton discusses the key trends and talking points ahead of the latest edition of the race at Newcastle on Saturday...

"Perhaps the biggest shock in the Fighting Fifth came 12 months ago, with Buveur d’Air being beaten at 13/2-on when seeking a hat-trick of wins in the race..."

AGE
Smart Stat - Only three horses aged eight or above have won the race since 2000

Five-year-olds have the best record in the Fighting Fifth since the turn of the century, winning eight of the 20 renewals in that time, but there are no members of that age group amongst the seven runners for the 2020 edition. Six-year-olds have supplied five winners during the same period and there are two six-year-olds in this year's line-up, namely Cornerstone Lad and Epatante.

By contrast, only three horses aged eight or older have won the Fighting Fifth since 2000. A total of 26 have tried but only The French Furze (aged nine in 2003), Harchibald (eight in 2007) and Irving (eight in 2016) have been successful. That could count against the three eight-year-olds set to line up on Saturday - Not So Sleepy, Sceau Royal and Voix du Reve.

FAVOURITES
Smart Stat - Three horses have been beaten at odds-on in the race since 2010

Only three favourites have won the Fighting Fifth since 2010, namely My Tent Or Yours (11/8-on in 2013), Irving (6/4 in 2014) and Buveur d'Air (6/1-on in 2017). Several horses have been turned over at short odds during that period, too, including Binocular, the former Champion Hurdle winner who was beaten when sent off favourite for successive renewals of this race in 2010 and 2011, and Cinders And Ashes, who was beaten at 11/10-on in 2012.

Perhaps the biggest shock in the Fighting Fifth came 12 months ago, with Buveur d'Air being beaten at 13/2-on when seeking a hat-trick of wins in the race. That should provide a small note of caution to those punters looking to pile in at short odds when Epatante makes her reappearance on Saturday.

FORM
Smart Stat - Nine of the last 10 winners had previously won a graded race over hurdles

Recent evidence suggests that it's best to side with horses who have already proved themselves at a high level. For example, seven of the last 10 winners had previously won or been placed in a Grade 1 over hurdles, while nine of the 10 had already won in graded company, with last year's shock winner Cornerstone Lad being the only exception to that rule.

Cornerstone Lad, Epatante and Silver Streak are the only runners in this year's renewal to meet both criteria. Of the rest, Sceau Royal deserves a mention given that he is a multiple winner in graded company over hurdles. Admittedly, he has come up short on his previous attempts at the top level in this sphere, but it's worth pointing out that he won the Grade 1 Henry VIII Novices' Chase at Sandown in December 2017.

As for recent form, six of the last 10 winners were making their seasonal reappearance over hurdles, while seven of the 10 had won their previous start. Cornerstone Lad, Not So Sleepy and Voix du Reve are the only three runners in this year's line-up who didn't win last-time-out.

RATING
Smart Stat - Eight of the last 10 winners achieved a Timeform performance rating of 149 or above

It usually takes at least smart form to win the Fighting Fifth, with eight of the last 10 winners achieving a Timeform rating of 149 or above in victory. Overturn produced the best recent performance in the race when successful in 2011, earning a Timeform rating of 163 after beating Binocular by four and a half lengths. By contrast, My Tent Or Yours and Buveur d'Air ran to a Timeform rating of just 139 when winning in 2013 and 2017, respectively, though both of them were top-class hurdlers on their day and simply didn't need to run up to their best to beat inferior rivals.

Epatante is the standout contender in this year's renewal with a Timeform rating of 161p, and she would be a well up-to-scratch winner of the Fighting Fifth if running to the same level here. At the other end of the spectrum, Voix du Reve (145), Not So Sleepy (140) and Ribble Valley (138p) would all need to improve to win a typical running of the race, though the small 'p' attached to Ribble Valley's Timeform rating denotes that he should at least have more to offer.

TRAINERS
Smart Stat - Nicky Henderson is the most successful trainer in the history of the race with five wins

Only three of the trainers with runners in this year's Fighting Fifth have previously won the race. Micky Hammond will be hoping Cornerstone Lad can repeat last year's success, while Ribble Valley represents the Nicky Richards yard that won the Fighting Fifth in 2003 with The French Furze, who was winning the race at the fourth attempt after filling the runner-up spot in three previous editions.

The most successful trainer in the history of the Fighting Fifth is Nicky Henderson, who has previously been successful with Landing Light (2001), Punjabi (2008), My Tent Or Yours (2013) and Buveur d'Air (2017 and 2018). Henderson looks to hold obvious claims of bringing up his sixth win in the race in this year's renewal with Epatante.

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