Fighting Fifth Redemption for Not So Sleepy

30 Nov 21

The latest edition of Newcastle’s Betfair Fighting Fifth hurdle saw a thrilling conclusion after the front three had jumped the last in unison, with the judge ultimately unable to split Epatante and Not So Sleepy in a photo finish, though the race also provided more evidence the home team will struggle once more against reigning champion Honeysuckle in the Champion Hurdle next March, writes Andrew Mealor

Five of the six who went to post in the Fighting Fifth had also run in last year’s renewal, evidence of the lack of fresh blood at the top of the 2m hurdling division. Not So Sleepy had well and truly blotted his copybook that day, jinking and unseating his rider at the first and then proceeding to carry out Silver Streak, but he redeemed himself with a very game effort, rallying to share the spoils despite jumping errors at each of the last two flights.

Epatante and Not So Sleepy Dead Heating The Betfair Fighting Fifth Hurdle from Seau Royal (right)

Although rising ten, this was only Not So Sleepy’s twelfth run over hurdles and he’s improved with each season. A second win in Ascot’s big pre-Christmas handicap and a fifth in the Champion Hurdle were his highlights last campaign, and he bettered even that form in recording a figure of 160. Although he was a big price, the Fighting Fifth result makes a fair bit of sense otherwise. Epatante and Sceau Royal, last year’s one-two, were the other pair involved in the close finish, whilst fourth-placed Silver Streak (154) performed similarly in relation to Sceau Royal (158) as he had when chasing that rival home in a listed race at Kempton last time.

Epatante (153) looked the pick of the weights beforehand in receipt of the mares’ allowance and that she didn’t win outright having moved best and led narrowly after the last was perhaps a little disappointing, though in mitigation she was reappearing against two match-fit rivals. That said, she’d made a successful return on each of her previous three campaigns and the overriding impression is that she simply isn’t quite the horse she was when winning the Champion Hurdle back in 2020. Rated 162 at the end of that season, Epatante has run to no higher than 154 in her five subsequent runs, and that sort of level usually isn’t good enough to win a Champion Hurdle, even once her mares’ allowance is factored in.

Epatante and Aidan Coleman (green) and Not So Sleepy and Jonathan Burke (blue) 

The disappointment of the Fighting Fifth was Monmiral who wasn’t travelling from a fair way out. A line can be put through the run given he was subsequently found to be lame and his juvenile form was given a big boost by Adagio’s fine effort in the Greatwood two weeks ago.

Another to have his Champion Hurdle hopes dampened over the weekend was Soaring Glory (149) who finished last of four in a muddling Gerry Fielden at Newbury. The small-field scenario certainly wasn’t suitable for last year’s Betfair Hurdle winner, though he has a fair bit to find with the leading two milers in any case.

All in all, events on Saturday only served to strengthen Honeysuckle’s (165) claims of retaining her crown, and right on cue she reappeared twenty-four hours later with a commanding eight-length success in the Hatton’s Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse, completing a hat-trick of wins in that Grade 1 event. She’s now odds on with most bookmakers for Cheltenham and at this stage it’s hard to see who will trouble her should she turn up fit and well.