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Cornerstone Lad shocks dual champion Buveur D'Air in Fighting Fifth

Cornerstone Lad: won the Fighting Fifth
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Apparent no-hoper Cornerstone Lad had his day of days as dual Champion Hurdle winner Buveur D'Air was defeated in the Newcastle mud.

Buveur D'Air was the 2-13 favourite and became the shortest-priced Grade 1 loser in Britain and Ireland since Istabraq lost at 1-7 in 1999.

And none can blame those left open-mouthed in shock as the front-running 16-1 shot refused to be passed on the run-in. Look at the numbers: Cornerstone Lad, fresh from a handicap victory at Wetherby, was rated 19lb lower than Buveur D'Air by the BHA handicapper and started the day 21lb adrift on Racing Post Ratings.

Nicky Henderson was seeking to extend his own record of five Fighting Fifth Hurdle victories and has more Grade 1 wins than many trainers have wins.

Micky Hammond, on the other hand, had no Grade 1 victories, although he won the Anniversary 4-Y-O Hurdle at Aintree in 1998, it was not promoted to the highest level until 2005.

And jockey Barry Geraghty, on Buveur D'Air, is just as much a Grade 1 titan, a man who has ridden 38 winners at the Cheltenham Festival and many top-class ones elsewhere.

Henry Brooke reckoned he was having just his second ride in Grade 1 company, but you would not have guessed it from the supremely accomplished way he lowered the favourite's colours.

In front from the off, he gave his mount a breather down the back, gave him his head from the third-last flight, then had enough in reserve to hold the favourite's strong challenge on the run-in to earn the verdict by a short-head.

"That's brilliant," Brooke said. "I think it's just my second ride in a Grade 1. I'm a northern jockey and I'm never really going to get on an odds-on shot in a Grade 1. I'll only have a ride if I've followed a horse through its career and it's progressed.

"I was very lucky to have been associated with this horse in his juvenile days and he's progressed into this today. But I never thought when we were winning round Catterick that we were going to be winning a Grade 1 in the Fighting Fifth.

"I knew there wasn't any pace in the race, so I knew I was going to have to take the bull by the horns. He was quick enough over the first couple, I got a pull into him down the back, and my plan was to let him roll from three out.

"He jumped really well the whole way; he just got in a bit tight to the last. Buveur D'Air came to me and pushed up the run-in but he's very tough."

Hammond appeared as surprised as any at becoming the first northern trainer to win Newcastle's only Grade 1 race since John Quinn scored with Countrywide Flame in 2012.

"Cornerstone Lad likes the ground and he was in very good form but he was taking on a super horse," he said. "We didn't come here expecting to win."

The winner might not even have been entered had it not been for his right-hand woman. Hammond said: "Kate Walton, who oversees him for me and is a big part of the team, said is it worth making an entry for the Fighting Fifth, on the Monday or Tuesday before we were due to go to Wetherby. 

"I thought we'd enter and if he won or ran really well and the ground came up really soft or heavy we'd consider it. The ground was heavy throughout the week and he copes with it; he has a rotavating action."

Asked about future targets, the trainer said: "I suppose something like the Champion Hurdle Trial at Haydock, where it's nearly always soft/heavy, could be a race to look at. I'd better have a word with Kate and see what she thinks!"     

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I never thought when we were winning around Catterick that we'd go on to win a Grade 1 in the Fighting Fifth!
E.W. Terms