The Fighting Fifth Hurdle was established in 1969, its title being an ode to the nickname of the Royal Northumberland Fusiliers based close to Newcastle where this race is of course run.
Newcastle’s top hurdle race, these days a Grade 1 event, has been won in the past by such superstars as Sea Pigeon and Kribensis among others and is considered one of the best trials for the Champion Hurdle that takes place on Day 1 of the Cheltenham Festival. The Fighting Fifth is run over two miles and half a furlong and takes place in late November or early December every year, the 2021 edition being run on Saturday 26th November.
As well as the aforementioned stars, this race has been successfully used as a Champion Hurdle stepping stone by Buveur D’Air as recently as 2017 and, but for an unfortunate fall, he could well have landed the race again last year having taken this event in great style just over three months earlier.
Epatante dominates the ante-post betting on the Fighting Fifth Hurdle 2022 as the mare seeks a record-equalling third success. Trainer Nicky Henderson also has Champion Hurdle favourite Constitution Hill entered but has indicated that he is more likely to run at Ascot.
The Henderson duo head a total of twelve 2022 Fighting Fifth Hurdle entries. Not So Sleepy, who dead-heated with Epatante last year, is also among the entries. Hughie Morrison’s popular ten-year-old was last seen finishing a very creditable third in the Cesarewitch Handicap on the flat at Newmarket. He will be fit to do himself justice and could adopt his customary front-running role.
Another popular veteran likely to feature among the Fighting Fifth Hurdle 2022 runners is Sceau Royal. Alan King’s versatile gelding has career earnings approaching £675,000 and is a high class performer over hurdles and fences. This will be his fourth appearance in the race, his best effort coming in 2020 when runner-up to Epatante.
Sceau Royal began this campaign with a smooth success at Kempton Park but was then beaten two and a half lengths by Knappers Hill in the Elite Hurdle at Wincanton. Paul Nicholls trains the winner who had previously won a valuable Chepstow handicap in October. He was a fair sixth in the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury in February and then struggled in the soft ground when favourite for a competitive event at Sandown.
Gordon Elliott has entered Pied Piper who has already won at Cheltenham and Down Royal this season. He was one of the highest rated juvenile hurdlers last season, finishing third in the Triumph Hurdle and runner-up in the Aintree Juvenile Hurdle. He also ran on the flat in the summer when sixth in the Ascot Stakes at the Royal meeting. He would be an interesting each-way alternative to the favourite if making the trip across the Irish Sea.
Fighting Fifth Hurdle Tip: Epatante (Saturday 26th November)
The first thing to note about the Fighting Fifth Hurdle is its recent history of upsets. Some hot favourites have been beaten at Newcastle in this race recently, so don’t rule out the possibility of a shock. Newbies can be someway protected by Cheltenham new account offers, but more experienced punters will need to think about their bets well. Trends and stats go out the window when upsets happen, but it is worth knowing the following:
The Fighting Fifth Hurdle is one of the first major Champion Hurdle trials of the season. Ten of the last thirteen winners have gone on to run in the Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in March. Of those, only Buveur D’Air (2017) was successful with six horses being placed. These include Epatante who finished third in 2021 and runner-up in 2022.
Epatante would join Comedy Of Errors and Birds Nest as three-time Fighting Fifth Hurdle winners if she can complete the hat-trick this year. She is widely available at 33-1 for the Champion Hurdle, a race she claimed in 2020. The ante-post favourite for that event is stable companion Constitution Hill ahead of reigning champion Honeysuckle.
Pied Piper is currently priced at 16-1 for the Champion Hurdle but the ante-post betting for the Fighting Fifth Hurdle suggests he is an unlikely starter. Knappers Hill is a 33-1 chance for Cheltenham and would do his prospects no harm if he could topple the favourite here.
The 2021 Fighting Fifth Hurdle featured four of the leading protagonists from an eventful 2020 renewal. On that occasion victory had gone to Epatante from Sceau Royal but there was drama at the first hurdle. Not So Sleepy jinked and unseated his rider before carrying out Silver Streak at the second flight.
Silver Streak stunned 1-5 favourite Epatante to win the Christmas Hurdle in 2020. Nicky Henderson’s mare had finished third in the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham with Silver Streak only fifth. She had also received treatment for a minor back injury during the summer and was reported to be in fine fettle for her seasonal debut.
Silver Streak set the pace but was headed by Not So Sleepy at the second last. Aidan Coleman was yet to ask Epatante for maximum effort and she led over the final flight. Not So Sleepy battled back bravely to force a dead-heat in the final stride. Sceau Royal finished third with Silver Streak fading into fourth place.
2021 Fighting Fifth Hurdle Result
🥇1st Not So Sleepy 18-1
🥇1st Epatante 11-8 Favourite
🥉3rd Sceau Royal 9-2
🐎 6 ran
👨🏻💼Not So Sleepy Trainer: Hughie Morrison
🏇🏼 Jockey: Jonathan Burke
👨🏻💼Epatante Trainer: Nicky Henderson
🏇🏼 Jockey: Aidan Coleman
Epatante brought a big reputation into the Fighting Fifth Hurdle. She defied weakness in the market on the morning of the race and this being a banana skin for favourites in recent years, as late betting support saw the Champion Hurdle heroine sent off odds-on for a third a Grade 1 win of her career. There would be drama in Newcastle, but thankfully for backers of the jolly she wasn’t involved. Epatante secured a record sixth Fighting Fifth Hurdle win for trainer Nicky Henderson and fifth success for owner JP McManus. She ran out an effortless 4¼ lengths winner over race-fit rival Sceau Royal on her first start since tasting Cheltenham Festival glory.
Before all that unfolded, however, the unfancied 22/1 chance Not So Sleepy from the Hughie Morrison stable virtually refused at the first hurdle and unseated jockey Paddy Brennan. Running loose, this horse caused havoc when carrying out Evan Williams’s 5/1 fancy Silver Streak at the second flight. That left a diminished field of four left in the race. Previous Fighting Fifth Hurdle hero Cornerstone Lad, who had won the race 12 months earlier, was withdrawn by trainer Micky Hammond on the morning of the race on account of unsuitably good ground. Not So Sleepy wasn’t finished with his involved, however, as he lurched across the track throughout the race, hampering Alan King’s 3/1 second-favourite Sceau Royal on the run to the third last.
The front two pulled some seven lengths clear of the third home, Nicky Richards’s Ribble Valley who was a weak 16/1 shot in the market. That horse and fellow northern raider Voix Du Reve, a recent recruit to Scottish trainer Iain Jardine’s yard and totally unfancied at 200/1, had their own private battle for the minor honours and third place prize money. They were no match for Epatante, however, who has been cut by bookmakers for a successful defence of her Champion Hurdle crown come the 2021 Cheltenham Festival.
The reputation that the Fighting Fifth Hurdle has for upsets continued when Cornerstone Lad made almost every yard of the running and turned over long odds-on favourite Buveur D’Air, who was bidding for a historic hat-trick in the race. Only one horse, the legendary Comedy Of Errors, has managed to win it three years running. Buveur D’Air picked up a nasty injury to his right fore hoof when part of a hurdle bar splintered off into it.
Given what happened to Nicky Henderson and JP McManus’s star hurdler, it was miraculous that he finished the race. Buveur D’Air went down fighting by a short-head to the Yorkshire trained 16/1 Cornerstone Lad on desperately heavy ground with the front two pulling over three lengths clear of Listed Kempton scorer Silver Streak. Useful dual purpose mare Lady Buttons, also trained in the White Rose country, was back in fourth and didn’t quite run up to her form.
Harvey Mayson has worked as a horseracing writer, blogger and tipster for several of the UK’s leading bookmakers and numerous other specialist racing sites. Harvey has great knowledge of horse racing history and was the author of the Paddy Power Cheltenham Festival and Aintree Grand National blog for three years. Harvey’s blog at the Cheltenham Festival in 2014 included a 100,000-1 ante-post four-timer while he correctly forecast the first four winners on Grand National day in 2015. He also tipped three Grand National winners in a row and eleven consecutive winning nap selections.