The 2020 Champion Hurdle picture could hardly be more open, so Fighting Fifth winner Cornerstone Lad may be one that bookmakers are underestimating and punters overlooking too quickly.
It is easy to dismiss the Micky Hammond trained gelding’s defeat of dual Cheltenham Festival hero Buveur D’Air at Newcastle as a fluke. The runner-up sustained a freak injury in the race with a splinter of wood from one of the hurdles visibly sticking out of his hoof.
Cornerstone Lad was clearly given too much rope around Gosforth Park to make virtually all the running, then keep on in really game fashion on heavy ground and lower the colours of a proven Grade 1 performer.
However, the form of the Fighting Fifth is very hard to knock given what those in-behind the six-year-old son of Delegator have done since.
Silver Streak, third in last year’s Champion Hurdle at massive odds of 80/1, filled the same spot in Newcastle, but was only beaten five lengths when chasing home Epatante in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton Park.
Evan Williams’ consistent grey had to give a 7lb sex allowance to that JP McManus owned mare on Boxing Day. Silver Streak has also placed three times at Cheltenham.
As for Fighting Fifth fourth Lady Buttons, she continues to make a very strong case for being one of the best mares in training in Britain. Trained by Hammond’s fellow Yorkshire handler Phil Kirby, she has gone back over fences and won one of the hottest chases for mares ever staged at Doncaster.
SHE DOES IT – LADY BUTTONS 🏇 pic.twitter.com/y7e8jGPglN
— Doncaster Racecourse (@DoncasterRaces) December 29, 2019
Lady Buttons beat Cheltenham Grade 3 handicap heroine Happy Diva by a head with a superbly timed run that relegated La Bague Au Roi – a dual winner over fences at the highest level as a novice – to third.
Considering how well the Fighting Fifth form is working out, free horse racing tips on the Champion Hurdle should include Cornerstone Lad at massive best odds of 50/1 with Betfair.
The BHA handicapper has certainly been impressed with him as his official rating is up 11lb to 159. That is higher than Silver Streak and, as he’s 33/1 for Champion Hurdle, it makes Cornerstone Lad look overpriced.
Since the Fighting Fifth, we have seen more prominent contenders in the betting fail to deliver. Klassical Dream posted very impressive novice form, but hasn’t run up to his mark of 160 on either of his starts in open company this season.
Yet he is five times shorter in the Champion Hurdle betting than Cornerstone Lad. That doesn’t make sense, given the pair are rated just 1lb apart.
Cornerstone Lad does have to prove his Fighting Fifth success wasn’t just a flash in the pan, though, and the next logical step en route to Cheltenham is the official Champion Hurdle Trial at Haydock Park.
We’ll see what he’s made of on Merseyside as he will have to shoulder a penalty for his win at the highest level in that Grade 2 contest, but don’t be surprised if he enhances his claims of Festival glory.