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Countrywide Flame on fire in top-class display

Report: Newcastle, Saturday Fighting Fifth Hurdle (Grade 1) 2m, 4yo+

COUNTRYWIDE FLAME is now a real contender for the Champion Hurdle following his easy victory in this contest. The 11-4 shot sluiced up to beat the odds-on favourite Cinders And Ashes by 12 lengths having jumped impeccably throughout.

John Quinn's four-year-old has always been renowned for his stamina following his victory in last season's Triumph Hurdle and his second in the Cesarewitch on the Flat, but he didn't need any extra reserves here as he barely came off the bridle to score under Denis O'Regan.

The winner is now 10-1 from 33s for the Champion with Paddy Power and BetVictor.

"I'm very pleased," said Quinn. "He improved a stone on the Flat this year and had to improve a stone to be a Champion Hurdle horse. Looking at that you'd say he has improved and he's still only four.

"They were good horses he beat and he did it well. I'll put him in the Christmas Hurdle, but the Istabraq Festival Hurdle at Leopardstown on December 29 looks the way we'll go. He's a versatile horse. He's gone on every ground and looked good on every ground."

All eyes pre-race were on Cinders And Ashes, but he was well and truly put in his place by Countrywide Flame, who looks to have improved from last season.

The winner has always been renowned for his toughness rather than his hurdling, but he winged every flight in the heavy ground, and once the long-time leaders Bothy and the bitterly disappointing Trifolium had given way, he simply cruised up the straight. Jason Maguire was in his slipstream on Cinders And Ashes, but when he started to shake up the Supreme Novices' victor the writing was on the wall.

It didn't seem like Donald McCain's favourite had underperformed, either, so this has to go down as a top-class performance from Countrywide Flame. Not many four-year-olds win this event; the few that have include Night Nurse, who picked up this race before going on to win the Champion as a five-year-old, and like that great hurdler, Countrywide Flame is ultra-tough and very progressive.

Connections clearly have a lot to be excited about now.

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