Buveur D’Air bids to stretch his top-level tally to nine with a third victory in the Betfair Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle.
Nicky Henderson’s dual Champion Hurdle hero has made a successful start to his season in the Gosforth Park Grade One in each of the past two seasons – and will be a warm order to complete the hat-trick on Saturday, taking on just four seemingly inferior rivals.
Should the JP McManus-owned eight-year-old prevail as expected, he will become only the third three-time winner of the Fighting Fifth after Comedy Of Errors (1972, 1973 and 1974) and Birds Nest (1976, 1977 and 1979).
Henderson said: “I’ve done a lot of work with him and we have had a good preparation, so all has gone well really.
“He looks big, but he has done everything right going into the race.
“The Fighting Fifth might not be as strong this year, but you still have Silver Streak in there and Lady Buttons and there will be worse horses around than them to take on first time out.”
The biggest threat to Buveur D’Air on ratings is the Evan Williams-trained Silver Streak. The grey finished third in last season’s Champion Hurdle – in which Buveur D’Air was an early faller – and made a winning reappearance at Kempton last month.
“Silver Streak is grand. He really enjoyed himself at Kempton and came out of the race fine,” said Williams.
“It was a lovely race to start him off in and, given how tough some of his assignments were last season, it was very nice to go and get his head in front.
“This weekend is going to be another tough assignment. I think anyone who thinks Buveur D’Air is not the horse he was needs their head checked.
“We are very grateful to be taking part in a race like this against a horse like Buveur D’Air, who for me has never had the recognition he deserves. He is a dual Champion Hurdle winner and it is a joy to be competing against a horse like him.”
Phil Kirby saddles his high-class mare Lady Buttons after she notched a 13th career win in a Listed event at Wetherby last time.
The nine-year-old retains the option of running over fences at Newbury on the same afternoon, in the event Newcastle is abandoned.
“It’s not often you have a horse who is third favourite for a Grade One – or we don’t anyway. There’s five runners and we decided we’d give it a go,” said the North Yorkshire handler.
“She’s had a run, she’s fit and well and she’s in good form at home.
“If she could be placed in a Grade One it would be brilliant for her.”
Cornerstone Lad is a previous winner over the course for Micky Hammond and had plenty in hand when landing a Wetherby handicap hurdle on his latest appearance.
However, he faces a huge step up in class this weekend.
Hammond said: “He’ll love the ground, he’s a course and distance winner and he’s in good form.
“Buveur D’Air is a smashing horse – he’s one of my favourites.
“The Fighting Fifth is a great race and it’s nice to have a horse to run in it.”
The quintet is completed by Tony Carroll’s outsider Nelson River, who finished fourth in last season’s Triumph Hurdle.
Carroll said: “It’s a tough ask, but we felt when there was a small entry we’d let him take his chance.
“He’s a good horse and I’m sure he’ll run well.”