It is the clash we've been waiting for; Young pretender Samcro taking on Champion Hurdle hero Buveur D'Air in Saturday's Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle.
Welcome rain has confirmed both heavy-weights for the bout, with Buveur D'Air heading the Fighting Fifth Hurdle betting at 11/10f and Ballymore Novices' Hurdle winner Samcro priced at odds as big as 2/1.
They are also first and second favourite for next March's Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, the Fighting Fifth being a rare and unexpected clash of titans before that test up Prestbury Park Hill.
What is the Fighting Fifth Hurdle?
One of the highlights of the pre-Christmas season, the Fighting Fifth Hurdle is a Grade 1 run over 2m 1/2f at Newcastle Racecourse. The £110,000 race has a prestigious 49-year-old history, with Champion Hurdle contenders regularly appearing, and most recently Punjabi and Buveur D’Air winning the race before their Cheltenham Festival triumph.
Fighting Fifth Trends to Follow
As a Grade 1 race it’s obvious to look for horses with proven form, but only half of the last 16 favourites have won. The Irish have taken only four renewals in the last 16 years, but with the Hatton’s Grace and Morgiana Hurdles close by, that shouldn’t put anyone off. In addition, 15 of the last 16 winners had won a Grade 2 or Grade 1 before.
Fighting Fifth Favourites
Buveur D’Air (11/10f Paddy Power) won the Fighting Fifth Hurdle last season with ease and went on to win his second Champion Hurdle title. It’s no surprise that he’s favourite in the betting, but things will be much harder for him than last year.
Samcro (2/1 Coral), bidding to bounce back from his first defeat when finishing a race, is set to run in his first Grade 1 since falling in the Punchestown Champion Hurdle last spring.
"The plan is to go [to Newcastle] as things stand," said Eddie O'Leary of Gigginstown House Stud, who own Samcro. "We have to go somewhere. We'd prefer not to be taking on the Champion Hurdle winner, but we'll know where we stand afterwards."
The six-year-old was beaten in the Grade 2 WKD Hurdle at Down Royal on his first run this season, disappointing many including his trainer Gordon Elliott. No obvious excuse has been found for the defeat, but it is interesting that the Champion Hurdle is still the plan.
Who else is a contender?
Supreme Novices’ Hurdle winner Summerville Boy (5/1 Bet 365) really came into his own when getting a stiff test over 2 miles. His late charge to take the Supreme at Cheltenham was impressive, considering that he nearly came to a stop hitting the second-last, then ballooned that.
There’s no doubting he has an engine, but if he’s to make it at the top level, he must jump much better, especially on a flatter track and better ground.
There’s no reason not to take Bedrock’s (12/1 Ladbrokes) defeat of Samcro in the WKD Hurdle as a career-best, although he did have the advantage of fitness that day and a 5lbs concession from Samcro.
The five-year-old would still have to be a contender if coming across from Scotland. Samcro's stablemate Apple’s Jade (12/1 Betfair) is also entered, but likely to head to the Hatton’s Grace Hurdle on Sunday if Samcro runs.
Colin Tizzard's Vision Des Flos (25/1 Black Type) and Ben Haslam’s latest recruit Blue Et Rouge (150/1 Paddy Power), second to Kalashnikov in the Betfair Hurdle last season for Willie Mullins, are the outsiders of the bunch.
Best Bet in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle?
Buveur D’Air might be short for some at no bigger than 11/10f with Paddy Power, but the two-time Champion Hurdle winners appears to have more speed than Summerville Boy and Samcro, and we know he can fight, as shown by his latest battling Champion Hurdle win last March.