It’s not unusual for the Fighting Fifth Hurdle – the annual highlight of Newcastle Racecourse’s jumps horse racing season – to produce surprise results. The Grade 1 event invariably run on testing ground over about two miles on the last Saturday in November or first in December has an illustrious roll of honour.

Great hurdlers of the past – notably Comedy Of Errors, Night Nurse, Birds Nest, Sea Pigeon, Kribensis, Landing Light and Punjabi – all triumphed at the Gosforth Park track. As a dual Champion Hurdle winner, Buveur D’Air also comes into that bracket but his colours – those of leading Irish owner JP McManus who has been a great supporter of the Fighting Fifth – were lowered by Yorkshire trained gelding Cornerstone Lad this year.

Buveur D’Air put in two scintillating displays at Newcastle to land the spoils in previous consecutive years. After winning at a canter in 2017, he dispensed with then hot hurdles prospect Samcro 12 months ago. As a result of that fine previous course form, Buveur D’Air was sent off at 2/13 by bookmakers for a Fighting Fifth hat-trick. However, both he and the remainder of the small but select field gave the enterprisingly ridden Cornerstone Lad too much rope.

When it later emerged that Buveur D’Air had a huge and rather gruesome splinter from a hurdle sticking out of a hoof, thoughts turned from disappointment to concern for his welfare. This has the potential to not just be a season, but career-ending injury.

While this Fighting Fifth form can’t be taken literally and the Micky Hammond-trained Cornerstone Lad is behind other Champion Hurdle contenders in Cheltenham races tips for the 2020 Festival, but this division now has a very open look to it.

Going into the Christmas period, the two Grade 1 two-mile hurdles on either side of the Irish Sea have produced shock results. Last season’s Supreme winner Klassical Dream disappointed on his return to action in the Morgiana Hurdle.

That top class race at Punchestown was instead won by Willie Mullins stable companion Saldier, but he is now on the easy list until the New Year with a minor setback. With Buveur D’Air out of action for an indefinite period, finding the Champion Hurdle winner is becoming a real puzzle for punters.

Cheltenham odds of 33/1 for Cornerstone Lad reflect that his Fighting Fifth victory – although in keeping with the race’s tradition – is regarded by bookies as a bit of a fluke. As upsets go, it is comparable to the 2016 running when Irving just lasted home and beat fancied Irish raider Apple’s Jade by a nose.

More will become clear about horses with Champion Hurdle credentials in the run up to and during Christmas time. As for Cornerstone Lad, handler Hammond has nominated the Champion Hurdle Trial at Haydock in January as the next test.

If the Delegator gelding lands that Grade 2 contest on Merseyside under a penalty for his Newcastle success, then he looks sure to be cut for Cheltenham Festival glory.

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