Horse Racing

Fighting Fifth Hurdle Preview

2.05 NEWCASTLE STANJAMES.COM FIGHTING FIFTH HURDLE PREVIEW

(Grade 1) (CLASS 1) (4yo+) (2m98y)

It is that time of year again already and you know Christmas is just around the corner when the Fighting Fifth comes around. Some illustrious types have taken this valuable Grade 1 prize down through the years and just some of the past winners include the likes of My Tent Or Yours, Straw Bear, Peddlers Cross and a personal favourite of mine, the enigmatic Harchibald.

Irving is back to defend his crown after a good win in the race last year on soft ground and showed he is in good heart with a victory last time. There is no shortage of viable alternatives to the Nicholls horse though, and below you will find my thoughts on all the runners for what should be a fantastic Fighting Fifth at Newcastle.

BELTOR    STEPHENS/O’BRIEN    

4yo son of Authorized who was rated just 76 on the level but has looked a different proposition over hurdles. Dotted up at Ludlow on his first run over timber in a Juvenile Novice contest and followed that up with a smooth win in the Grade 2 Adonis hurdle at Kempton, just pushed out. His only disappointing effort came when he was well fancied for the Triumph at Cheltenham, but the stiff finish on soft ground probably didn’t play to his strengths.

He is an exciting prospect for this season and the conditions at Newcastle will be perfect. Stephens will likely have him primed for this and even though he has a fair amount to find on the figures he is only a 4yo and there is every chance he has strengthened up over the summer. Of definite interest at 7/1.

IDENTITY THIEF    DE BROMHEAD/COOPER 

Henry de Bromhead has had his string in fine form for the first couple of months of the season and this 5yo son of Kayf Tara took a decent Grade 2 heat at Down Royal last time from Whiteout, who has since franked the form. He has won 3 of his 6 starts, including a bumper and a maiden hurdle and he was a good 2nd to Sempre Medici on his penultimate run last season in another Grade 2.

He was pulled up on his only previous run at this level at Punchestown last year which is an obvious worry but you can’t blame De Bromhead for having another go given the manner of his win last time out. He has obviously improved for his break but he will need to find even more if he is to come out on top in this contest. He isn’t discounted at odds of 8/1.

IRVING     NICHOLLS/SCHOFIELD 

Enigmatic 7yo son of Singspiel who is top class when he puts it all in, just as he did in this race last year. He is 7/12 over hurdles and has won 3 Grade 2s to go with his Grade 1 win in this last year. Was well fancied for the Supreme Novice a couple of years back but flopped and he hasn’t been back to Cheltenham since.

He has proved his well being with a couple of excellent wins this season, slamming Melodic Rendezvous on his comeback run at Wincanton. He followed that up with a win in a four runner heat at Haydock and race fitness will not be an issue on Saturday. Is 7/2 to defend his crown but this looks a better race than last year and he will do well to defeat some of the young pretenders.

PURPLE BAY    FERGUSON/BASS

Ex Godolphin son of Dubawi who never made the track on the flat. Won his bumper before following up with good efforts at the Cheltenham and Aintree festivals. He is 4 from 11 over hurdles and his biggest win came in a Grade 2 limited handicap on good to soft at Wincanton last year off a mark of 154 at 16/1.

He was runner up to Faugheen in a Grade 1 at Kempton last December on his last run of the season and returned with a laboured effort behind Bobs Worth at Aintree over 20f. The drop back to 16f will suit though he wouldn’t want to see much more rain. He is priced up at 20/1 and after that poor effort last time he is best watched, especially on soft ground.

TOP NOTCH    HENDERSON/JACOB 

4yo son of Pogliote who was just over a length behind Irving on his seasonal reappearance at Haydock. Looked a very exciting prospect last season, unbeaten on his first 5 runs, and he lost little caste in defeat when beaten half a length in the Triumph, a mile clear of Beltor.

There is every chance he will come on massively for his comeback run and it would be disappointing if he couldn’t reverse the form with Irving given that his opponent had a run under his belt before they met. The trip and ground look perfect, the course shouldn’t present too many problems and at 6/1 Top Notch has to be near the top of any shortlist.

WICKLOW BRAVE     MULLINS/WALSH

Irish raider from the all conquering Willie Mullins yard who is 3 from 12 over hurdles, including the Vincent O’Brien handicap at the Cheltenham festival. Hasn’t really had a break since then and has been kept going over the summer on the flat. He ran at all the big summer festivals and his best effort came in the Ebor behind Litigant.

He showed he has kept his form with an excellent effort behind Nichols Canyon and Faugheen at Punchestown last time but he has had a long hard season and you’d have to wonder is it going to catch up with him at some stage. He goes on any ground and the trip is fine, but at 7/4 he looks skinny enough to me and this 6yo son of Beat Hollow won’t be seeing any of my hard earned on Saturday.

INTENSE TANGO    BURKE/BROOKE 

The sole filly in the field looks to face a tough task against the boys, even in receipt of 7lbs. This 4yo daughter of Mastercraftsman has shown plenty of promise on the flat and is rated 87 in that sphere. She showed she was just as good, if not better, over timber with a Grade 2 win  against her own sex at Doncaster. She also ran a cracker in the Grade 1 juvenile heat at Cheltenham, finishing ahead of Hargam, form that if taken literally puts her right in the picture.

However, she was fit from the flat before her run in a Listed hurdle at Wetherby last time out and it was disappointing she couldn’t get closer to the winner. She is rated just 138 which gives her a mountain to climb, even if she is getting 7lbs from her rivals. She is best left alone on this occasion at odds of 20/1.

VERDICT

This is a cracking renewal of the Fighting Fifth and there will be plenty of clues regarding bigger days ahead later on in the season. Irving is the defending champ, but he could struggle to confirm his superiority over Top Notch who will be a lot fitter and at 6/1 he is of definite interest. Identity Thief is an unknown quantity at this level while Wicklow Brave looks plenty short enough given the long hard season he has had.

The one I like is Beltor, who I was mightily impressed with last season. He didn’t give his true running at Cheltenham and his trainer will be desperate to make amends on Saturday. The small field will suit this strong traveller and he can get the better of Top Notch in what should be a fascinating race.

STEVOS’ SELECTIONS: 1) BELTOR 7/1  2) TOP NOTCH 6/1

 

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