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Micky Hammond’s Cornerstone Lad is back to defend his crown in the Grade 1 Fighting Fifth Hurdle on Saturday, having edged out Buveur D’Air to secure a surprising win last year. We spoke to the Middleham trainer ahead of his clash with the new Champion hurdler, Epatante, to find how the horse’s preparation went. 

Ground the question mark for last year’s winner

“It is a fairly similar race to last year, but will be run on different ground. He does like to get his toe in, so it will be interesting to see how he handles better ground against these types of horses.”, Hammond said regarding the track conditions. 

Cornerstone Lad has won well on good to soft ground in the past, but whether he can do it against Grade 1 hurdlers remains to be seen. He is still only a six-year-old, so there could be room for a bit more improvement. If he gets into a strong rhythm once again, who knows, he could easily prove quite hard to pass once again.

“He is in great form at home and it is obviously a race we’ve had in mind for him since he came in from summer grass. Last year we were able to take in a 0-140 handicap hurdle at Wetherby on route after his Flat win at Catterick. But of course he’s too highly rated now, so we’ve won on the Flat again (at Redcar earlier this month), and we’re going straight for the Fighting Fifth.”

Cornerstone Lad has a lot on his plate to win again, but as we’ve seen at Newcastle over the years, horses return to show their best here time and time again. Should he not handle faster conditions, then we might see the best of Micky Hammond’s star hurdler on other days through the season, when the rain does its job for this proven soft ground lover. 

Elysees primed for Doncaster bid on stable debut

“Elysees has been kindly sent to us by Mr Buckingham (previously trained by Alan King, then Fergal O’Brien) and has won his races on the Flat and over hurdles. Doncaster and the better ground should really suit him and he should run his race. All he seems to do is gallop and stay so I’ll be looking forward to getting him out over even further.”

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