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Fighting Fifth Hurdle preview

A rare venture north for top level NH horses tomorrow with the crown jewel of the North East's winter season - the Fighting Fifth Hurdle. With the ground in decent condition, a strong field has accepted. Recent addition to the list of blog contributors, local racing enthusiast and aspiring journo Daniel Knight, @danielknightt, casts a sagacious eye over the field. You can read more of his work at BritishJumpRacing.

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StanJames.com Fighting Fifth Hurdle Grade 1
2 miles Newcastle, Good to Soft Ground but could be just Good, Soft in Places come Saturday.


It’s not often big names in National Hunt racing come to Newcastle Racecourse. But the first Grade 1 Hurdle of the season, the Fighting Fifth, always see’s the big stables top hurdlers travel north. Year in year out, the Champion Hurdle contenders grace the turf at Newcastle as one of their 1st stops en-route to the opening day of Cheltenham’s showpiece event. The Fighting Fifth Hurdle is just about the best racing Newcastle Racecourse gets. This year’s field is not the best that the Fighting Fifth has ever seen, but we’re certainly not short on talent. One talent being a huge one.

Cotton Mill: 16/1
Cotton Mill is a bit of an enigma, consistently offering promise only to be let down soon after.

After winning 3 in a row as a novice, everything looked rosy going into the 2012 Neptune (won by Simonsig) but he unseated the rider. He then finished 3rd in the Sefton, followed by a 2nd in last years Betfair Hurdle, behind My Tent Or Yours, which is top class form. Again, when everything looked good, he went on to offer nothing in the Vincent O’Brien or the Punters Club Hurdle at Aintree. He returned this season with a distinctly average 4th behind Melodic Rendezvous in the Grade 2 Ten To follow Elite Hurdle at Wincanton, so his chances look slim. Although rated only 8lbs behind Melodic, that probably flatters Cotton Mill and he is a very risky proposition to back here, especially as he hasn’t won since January 2012.

Duke of Navan: 16/1
It is not often a horse has only had 1 attempt at a graded race and wins the Fighting Fifth, which is why I can’t help but feel that Duke Of Navan is a bit out of his depth here. Winning three out of four juvenile hurdle races is not a bad record by any going, but for me, his mark of 148 is generous. Especially considering in his one graded event he was fourth behind Dodging Bullets and River Maigue. In comparison, Cotton Mill is rated 147 and he’s won a Grade 2 and placed in a Grade 1. Some positives though are that his trainer, Nicky Richards knows what it takes to win this race and five-year-olds have won five out of the last ten runnings. Overall, Duke Of Navan’s potential is not disregarded and he will have improved over the summer, but as a returning race this is tough and it will be a major shock if he wins. Best watched but could maybe nick a place.

Grumeti: 8/1
A talented novice hurdler whose career has been disrupted because injury, Grumeti is a hard one to assess but, he does have a chance of a place on Saturday. After running 6 times over hurdles in the 11/12 season, including a third in the JCB Triumph Hurdle and winning the Grade 1 Matalan Anniversary 4-Y-O Hurdle at Aintree, he looked to have some promise. But injury ruled him out of basically all of last season, he ran only once in the Scottish Champion Hurdle, coming fourth behind Court Minstrel. If, and it’s a big if, he returns to his novice hurdle form, he has a chance at minor honours. Each way chance.

Melodic Rendezvous: 5/2
Although not the favourite, Melodic Rendezvous is a classy horse with some top form. Beaten only twice in his career, once by Champagne Fever in a Punchestown Bumper and once by Mr Mole (who was once an exciting prospect), he has now won four in a row, including a novices Grade One. He is rated 155 and is ever improving, beating Far West on his seasonal return in a Grade One. He has the fitness over his main rival (My Tent Or Yours) and given that some of Henderson’s top lot are needing the run this year, he has a cracking shout. 5/2 is not the best value but he has been shortening all week, so he’s worth a serious look.

My Tent Or Yours: 8/11
One of the few horses everyone wanted to see this season, MTOY is an equine beast. In his nine runs, including National Hunt flat races and hurdles, MTOY has never been out of the top two (including four graded races). He has been favourite on eight of his nine races and in the one he wasn’t, he was second favourite. Last season’s run in Supreme Novices, followed by 16 length romp in the Grade Two Alder Hey Novices Hurdle, installed him as one of the front runners for this year’s Champion Hurdle, ahead of the mighty Hurricane Fly. Overall, MTOY oozes class and is a worthy favourite for this. But given many of Henderson’s have needed the run, he needs to be on his game. Worth a serious look.

Rock Relief: 150/1
Considering he officially rated 123 and has only won twice over jumps, I have absolutely no idea why Rock Relief is still declared for this race. He has only ever contested one graded race, in which he came third out of six and has only ever won twice over jumps. Admittedly, those wins were both over course and distance, but that is the only positive I can give this horse. Unfortunately, the price pretty much sums up Rock Relief’s chances. More chance of the mighty Sprinter Sacre running in the 2014 Grand National than this winning, don’t even contemplate backing.

Stormy Weather: 100/1
Another horse who is punching quite a bit above their weight in a race like this. Rated just 129, 31lbs behind My Tent Or Yours, says a lot about his chances, although he is rated 6lbs ahead of Rock Relief which is a positive. He’s coming into the Fighting Fifth off the back of a win in a Two mile handicap at Wetherby and it just isn’t a good enough standard. Again, the same as Rock Relief, the only positive I can give him is that he has had a couple of course and distance wins, but not even they can stop him from coming at best 7th on Saturday. Wouldn’t back it with stolen money.

Cockney Sparrow: 12/1
This is an intriguing runner for last year’s winning trainer. 2nd on debut in a Listed Fillies hurdle, Cockney Sparrow has been favourite on every start since, including on the flat. Over jumps she has never finished outside the top two. She seems to have considerable potential and while she hasn’t beaten any males of note yet, she claimed the scalp of L’Unique and Une Artiste last time out. Overall, she probably won’t win or place on Saturday but she deserves her chance in the top races and her graded win will come. Chance of a place, but only small. Keep an eye out for her performance though.

Conclusion:
Just as the Coral Hurdle was last week, it is just a two horse race. I know that may be harsh on the rest of the field, but Grumeti has only raced once since May 2012 and Duke of Navan and Cockney Sparrow are completely unproven at this level. Cotton Mill is as unpredictable as the North East’s weather and last two in the betting speak for themselves. The trends show that winners tend to have won a Graded race at Cheltenham or Aintree and are rated over 150. They also show that 8 out of the last 10 winners have came from the 1st two in the betting, which should be a given this time round as well.

It all points down to Melodic Rendezvous or My Tent Or Yours, which I know, is obvious. When I first looked at this race, Melodic Rendezvous seemed the smart bet, especially as he has the fitness over MTOY and with Nicky Henderson’s record with Binocular (same connections) in the race. But then he shortened up in the betting and I watched My Tent Or Yours races from last season and have seen sense, I think. Look at what My Tent Or Yours did at Cheltenham without a Grade 1 start, what he did at Aintree and at Newbury. On paper, he should win this easily. Since the Betfair Hurdle he has been on everyone’s 13/14 waiting list. At the end of the day, if Henderson’s string had come out this season without needing the run, MTOY would be a lot shorter. It is only a few that have needed the run, and made to look at lot more than what it is because of West Wizard on Monday. Considering the potential that he showed last year, MTOY might be the best horse in the race no matter what his fitness is like, or how good Melodic Rendezvous is. Wait until on the day to get best price for My Tent Or Yours as I think he’ll touch evens. Back MTOY at that and back the forecast for MTOY/Melodic Rendezvous.

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