Epatante tops 17 contenders for Fighting Fifth crown

Champion Hurdle heroine Epatante features among 17 entries for the Betfair Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle on November 28.

The Nicky Henderson-trained mare will be aiming to give trainer Nicky Henderson a sixth victory in the Grade One contest – with previous winners for Seven Barrows including two fellow Champion Hurdle scorers in Punjabi (2008) and Buveur D’Air (2017 and 2018).

Henderson has also entered Marie’s Rock, the winner of a bumper and two hurdle races from as many starts.

Micky Hammond’s Cornerstone Lad caused a 16-1 surprise 12 months ago when he edged out Buveur D’Air – who it transpired had suffered a nasty injury during the race – and Silver Streak (Evan Williams) in a thrilling finish.

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Cornerstone Lad has had two starts on the Flat in preparation for his title defence, most recently making all to win a 14-furlong handicap at Redcar.

Five horses have won back-to-back runnings of the Fighting Fifth Hurdle, with Buveur D’Air the first to do so since Dato Star (1998 and 1999).

Hammond said of his six-year-old: “Cornerstone Lad is in great form and firmly on course for the Betfair Fighting Fifth Hurdle.

“It was fantastic to win the race last year and it gave us one of the biggest days in my training career.

“After the Fighting Fifth, we are strongly considering going over fences with him. That is something we will discuss more after the Fighting Fifth, but that is currently the way we are leaning.

“He had a lovely summer out in the paddocks and then came back and has already had two spins on the Flat.”

He added: “He ran really well at Redcar in October to be fourth and then I was delighted with his latest effort earlier this month. Those two runs have left him spot on for the Fighting Fifth and he is primed to go.

“We are aware that he will be taking on more top-class opposition, but it is lovely to have a horse like him in the yard and we are looking forward to trying to defend his crown.”

Gary Moore has given Goshen an entry, while Abacadabras (Gordon Elliott) and Jason The Militant (Henry de Bromhead) are among three Irish-trained possibles.

Elite Hurdle winner Sceau Royal has the option for Alan King, with the well-regarded Ribble Valley in the mix for Nicky Richards.

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