This year’s Fighting Fifth Hurdle is for the first time sponsored by Stan James. Recent winners of the race underline the quality of horse required to win this, with Peddlers Cross, Go Native, Punjabi and Harchibald all adding their name to the roll of honour in recent seasons. This year’s renewal features Nicky Henderson’s Binocular, Donald McCain’s Overturn, Paul Nicholl’s Celestial Halo, and the two outsiders Stormy Weather and Kosta Brava.
Binocular has always been held in the highest regard by connections, so much so that when he was only a four-year-old they opted to run him in the Supreme Novices Hurdle, instead of the Triumph Hurdle back in 2008. He finished a game second that day, and rounded off his novice campaign with an effortless victory over Celestial Halo at Aintree. He finished third behind Punjabi and Celestial Halo in the Champion Hurdle the following year, but gained revenge on those rivals with a brilliant performance at Cheltenham a year later. He won the Christmas Hurdle last season, before disappointing at Aintree and Puchestown, after missing Cheltenham due to injury. Henderson’s charge is undoubtedly the class act in the race, but he has been turned over at odds-on in the past two renewals.
Binocular will have no easy task against two match-fit performers in the shape of Overturn and Celestial Halo; both of whom have won their first start this term. Overturn gained another hurdling victory in last weekend’s Coral Hurdle at Ascot, returning from a three-month break after taking the Summer Champion Hurdle at Perth in August. Although he couldn’t cut it at the top level last season, he should be on the premises here, especially with an easy lead looking likely. Celestial Halo returned at Wincanton three weeks ago, with a lucky success after Grandouet took a heavy fall when travelling much the best. Despite finishing second in the 2009 Champion Hurdle, he has looked more like a stayer in recent seasons, but Overturn should make this a true test, and he should go close.
Kosta Brave and Stormy weather are decent performers in their own rights, but the top three are in a completely different league.
On the form book it’s Binocular’s to lose, but he doesn’t have the best record fresh, so with a very strong pace likely from Overturn, the emphasis will be on stamina and not speed. Overturn looked to have had a hard enough race last weekend, so it might be worth taking a chance with Celestial Halo who stays well, and should be much sharper after his recent victory at Wincanton.