The Betfair Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle has been won by several top-class performers over the years, along with some popular successes for locally-trained runners. Timeform's Adam Houghton looks back on four of the most memorable editions of the race...
"The defending champion crashed through the last but immediately shrugged that aside, making Samcro look second rate as he blew him right away with an exceptional burst of pace..."
Timeform on Buveur d'Air
SEA PIGEON (1980)
Widely regarded as the best dual-purpose performer in Timeform's experience, Sea Pigeon's CV over obstacles was particularly impressive when you consider that he was operating in a golden age for two-mile hurdlers, an era that was probably the best in the long history of the Fighting Fifth.
The race was dominated by four top-class hurdlers between 1972 and 1980, with Comedy of Errors (1972, 1973, 1974), Night Nurse (1975), Birds Nest (1976, 1977, 1979) and Sea Pigeon (1978, 1980) sharing nine successive renewals between them. They provided some thrilling contests, too, including Sea Pigeon's second victory in 1980, when he needed the intervention of the stewards to prevail after the quirky Birds Nest had passed the post in front.
Birds Nest was produced to collar the front-running Pollardstown after the last but hung across Sea Pigeon's path in doing so. Just half a length separated them at the line and the interference was deemed severe enough to have cost Sea Pigeon the race, causing the stewards to reverse the placings, a controversial decision at the time.
Incidentally, Comedy of Errors and Birds Nest remain the most successful horses in the history of the Fighting Fifth with three wins apiece, while this year's renewal will see Cornerstone Lad attempt to become the ninth multiple winner of the race after his shock 16/1 success in 2019.
THE FRENCH FURZE (2003)
The French Furze may have won the Fighting Fifth only once, but he can boast the unique recording of having contested eight successive renewals of the race between 2000 and 2007, building up such a following at Newcastle that he now has a novice hurdle named after him earlier on the card.
Runner-up on his first three appearances in the Fighting Fifth, The French Furze finally gained his day in the sun when going one place better in 2003. The previous year's winner Intersky Falcon was sent off the 2/1-on favourite to retain his crown, but that rival faltered on the run to the last after possibly pressing for home too soon, allowing the more patiently-ridden The French Furze to come through and pick up the pieces to win by three quarters of a length at 25/1.
The French Furze wasn't disgraced on his next three appearances in the race - he finished fifth in 2004 and third in both 2005 and 2006 - and it was rather appropriate that his final start on a racecourse came in the 2007 renewal, when pulled up behind Harchibald at the age of 13.
A terrific servant to his connections, The French Furze was trained by Nicky Richards, who is set to be represented in this year's renewal by Ribble Valley. He remains unexposed after winning three of his four starts over hurdles to date.
Many will remember Harchibald best for his defeat in the 2005 Champion Hurdle, a race he somehow managed to lose after looking to be full of running on the run-in, but he had been an impressive winner of the Fighting Fifth earlier that same season.
Harchibald returned to Newcastle trying to regain his crown three years later, though he had a bit to prove at that stage given that he hadn't tasted success for nearly two years. He was rather overlooked in the betting as a result, with favouritism instead belonging to the four-year-old Katchit, the Triumph Hurdle winner taking on older hurdlers for the first time.
Harchibald was right back to his best on this occasion, however, and responded well for Paul Carberry when pushed along after cruising into contention from well off a not particularly strong pace. Jumping the last upsides Al Eile and Katchit, Harchibald went on to win by a length and three quarters and a length and a half from that pair, the three of them clear of the rest.
Katchit went on win that season's Champion Hurdle - Harchibald was beaten 33 lengths in tenth - but his trainer Alan King is still seeking a first success in the Fighting Fifth.
King will he hoping to put that right this year with Sceau Royal, who was fourth behind Irving in 2016 and has looked as good as ever back over hurdles this season, winning the Welsh Champion Hurdle at Ffos Las and the Elite Hurdle at Wincanton.
BUVEUR D'AIR (2018)
The 2018 renewal of the Fighting Fifth was one of the most eagerly-anticipated in recent memory, with the dual Champion Hurdle winner Buveur d'Air (who had also won the Fighting Fifth in 2017) coming up against Summerville Boy (Supreme) and Samcro (Ballymore), both impressive novice winners at the Cheltenham Festival earlier that year.
Samcro controlled the pace and began to wind it up from three out, but Buveur d'Air was always travelling strongly in his chief market rival's slipstream. The defending champion crashed through the last but immediately shrugged that aside, making Samcro look second rate as he blew him right away with an exceptional burst of pace that saw him double his advantage without coming under full pressure in the final 100 yards.
Admittedly, Buveur d'Air has found life harder in the intervening period - he was an early faller when seeking a Champion Hurdle hat-trick and then missed the second half of the latest campaign after injuring himself when second in this race 12 months ago - but it hasn't taken his connections long to find an able replacement in this division.
The horse in question is of course last year's Champion Hurdle winner Epatante, who is understandably a long odds-on favourite to add her name to the illustrious roll of honour for the Fighting Fifth on Saturday. She is well clear on Timeform's weight-adjusted ratings and may yet have even more to offer.
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