The Fighting Fifth Hurdle is the first of four Grade 1 open-age 2 mile hurdles races run in the UK each season, and is the official first leg of the Triple Crown of hurdling.
The Fighting Fifth Hurdle serves as an opportunity for trainers to test horses who performed well in Grade 1 and 2 novice hurdles races the previous season. This means more experienced star hurdlers tend to start the race as strong favourites when they make the trip to Newcastle.
In 2016 the field for the Fighting Fifth Hurdle is somewhat short on star power, with the majority of entries taking a step up in difficulty at Newcastle after competing in prominent hurdles races for 4-year-olds and novices last season.
Fighting Fifth Hurdle trends
How the Fighting Fifth Hurdle plays out is reliant on whether or not one of the star 2 mile hurdlers in the UK makes the trip to Newcastle to compete in the race.
When they do they tend to start the race as short odds favourites, and have a good strike rate. Of the four horses that have started the Fighting Fifth Hurdle priced under 2/1 in the last five years, two won and one came home second.
When the field is slightly more inexperienced the race opens up, as was evident last year when the favourite, Wicklow Brave, started at 2/1 while a 6/1 entry came home the winner
A win at Grade 2 level last time out is a strong form signal, however poor form ahead of the Fighting Fifth Hurdle is not reason enough to dismiss a horse. Past winners of the race have recovered from falls or indifferent starts to the new season before triumphing at Newcastle.
A more reliable cue to potential in this race is form in top rated novices races the previous season. Winners tend to have either won or found the places in Grade 1 races the previous season.
The summer break is the 'x factor' in this equation, as horses who showed some potential the previous season can improve significantly during this period and trounce more fancied contenders in this race.
2016 Fighting Fifth Hurdle field
The 2016 edition of the Fighting Fifth Hurdle has seen the stars of the 2 mile hurdles circuit stay away from Newcastle, leaving Sceau Royale as the antepost favourite.
He ticks the box of having won a Grade 2 hurdles race recently, taking the Elite Hurdle earlier in November. While he failed to impress at either the Cheltenham or Aintree festivals at the end of last season, he's started the new season firing on all cylinders, and with two wins from two races looks a decent, if underpriced, option.
The more experienced Irving finds himself second in the betting. He's no stranger to the Fighting Fifth Hurdle, having won the race in 2014. He started last season strongly before finishing out of the places in his last two races, and at the age of 8 could be a spent force in this format. Priced under 4/1 he's a poor proposition.
By contrast Apple Jade's stock is rising as she heads into this race. She finished a close second in the Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham last season, and went on to win two consecutive Grade 1 novices hurdles races at Aintree and Punchestown.
She started the new season with a close second at Down Royal and seems a touch stronger over softer ground, but should nevertheless be able to play herself into the places in this race. Her price is dropping rapidly ahead of the Fighting Fifth Hurdle, so you'll want to get her each-way while this is still a profitable option.
2016 Fighting Fifth Hurdle tip
Apple's Jade is the standout horse in this small field. She demonstrated what she's capable of last season and is already a multiple Grade 1 winner. Without an established champion hurdler in the field, and priced high enough to pay out on each-way bets if she places, she picks herself for the Fighting Fifth Hurdle.