There’s plenty to get stuck into this weekend on the racing front but perhaps nothing catches the eye more than the Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle.
It has the essence of a ‘mini-Champion Hurdle’ and goes against the grain of recent seasons in the two-mile hurdling division.
Routinely, the big guns have dodged each other until the spring but here we have a proper generation clash worth savouring.
Samcro to win Fighting Fifth Hurdle @ 9/4
A dual Champion Hurdle hero and six-time Grade One-winning two-miler he may be, but I’ve yet to truly subscribe to the Buveur D’air fan club. Nicky Henderson’s charge is a fair barometer but has arguably won two weak renewals of the Cheltenham championship race and, in his remaining Grade Ones, has faced poor opposition.
He won this contest a year ago from Irving, hard held, but will surely be given a race now. Samcro and Summerville Boy won the leading novice hurdles at Cheltenham in the spring past and, in the case of the latter, few young stars have garnered more column inches.
He’s failed to win in his last two starts either side of a summer break (including a fall at Punchestown) and faces his toughest opponent on paper now.
The reappearance at Down Royal was disheartening but surely trainer Gordon Elliott has seen enough at home since to convince him that this is the right course to take.
Samcro can put his career back on track and confirm the hype, whilst blowing the two-mile division wide open, with a Fighting Fifth success.
The Young Master to win Ladbrokes Trophy @ 12/1
The Young Master was well-touted for this contest back in 2015 when it was the Hennessy Gold Cup but failed to get past the first fence, leaving Sam Waley-Cohen sprawled on the turf after an unseat.
Despite ending that season with a big pot at Sandown, he’s had rather a troubled time since but now looks to be on top of his game once more for trainer Neil Mulholland.
He made a winning return at Chepstow in October, the form of that race has been working out quite well, and then came out and scored again at Cheltenham’s November Meeting. He carries just a 4lb penalty for that win and effectively has 3lb in hand on the assessor for now as a result.
He has been jumping superbly well and, having fancied him off a mark of 150 in this race previously, it would be churlish not to imagine the nine-year-old going well from the bottom of the weights off 139 in his current mood. He looks a fine each-way play for the Ladbrokes Trophy.
Commander Of Fleet to win Royal Bond Novice Hurdle @ 5/2
The likes of Hurricane Fly, Jezki and Nichols Canyon have won this Fairyhouse contest in recent times and it usually produces a good one. Last year Gordon Elliott halted Willie Mullins’ domination of the race as Mengli Khan – subsequently placed in the Supreme at Cheltenham and now favourite for the Arkle – scored in good style.
The Cullentra handler and Gigginstown have another fine candidate now in Commander Of Fleet.
Admittedly he has only a maiden hurdle win under his belt but he looks an exciting sort. He won his only point-to-point start well and then dotted up in a valuable Punchestown Festival bumper back in the spring. He was back there for a winning hurdles bow this month and strung the field out with real ease.
That was over 2m4f but his bumper win suggests dropping back to the minimum will hold no fears and he can make it back-to-back Royal Bond wins for his trainer.