MICKY HAMMOND believes there is more to come from Cornerstone Lad after the horse’s shock win in the Grade One Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle.
The biggest win in Hammond’s 30-year training career, Haydock’s Champion Hurdle trial on January 18 is the next target for the North Yorkshire horse.
But Middleham-based Hammond says the six-year-old, owned by Mary Lofthouse, needs soft ground to be seen at his optimum.
And while the two mile hurdling division is wide open, he believes Cornerstone Lad could, in time, be more effective over steeplechase fences.
The Fighting Fifth is the race that saw Henry Brooke’s mount secure an uncontested lead at the start that caught out their four rivals.
It’s not all about this season with him, he could make a very nice novice chaser next season – he’s got plenty of scope and he’s still learning his trade.Micky Hammond
Only in the home straight did Barry Geraghty try to respond to the challenge on dual Champion Hurdle winner Buveur D’Air.
By then it was too late as Brooke, a popular North Yorkshire rider, celebrated the biggest win of his career.
However, while the running of the race has been open to conjecture, the quality of Cornerstone Lad’s opponents cannot be discounted.
Back in third was the Evan William-trained Silver Streak who chased home the Geraghty-ridden Epatante in the Grade One Christmas Hurdle at Kempton.
And in fourth was the Phil Kirby-trained Lady Buttons, the subsequent winner of Doncaster’s Silver Vase Mares’ Chase in a thrilling three-way finish.
Cornerstone Lad will head to Haydock for the Unibet Champion Hurdle Trial on January 18, as he looks to back up his Fighting Fifth Hurdle success.
“It was great to see Lady Buttons and Silver Streak come out of the race and run very well over Christmas.
“Nicky Henderson’s filly (Epatante) was very impressive at Kempton, as she was at Newbury the same day we won the Fighting Fifth, but I can only talk about mine really and he’s in good form.
“We’d like to think he stands a chance of improving, the more good races he runs in, the better he will become. He should have his ground at this time of year, or I could consider the Morebattle Hurdle at Kelso in the middle of February.
“It’s not all about this season with him, he could make a very nice novice chaser next season – he’s got plenty of scope and he’s still learning his trade.”
Dual Queen Mother Champion Chase hero Altior is the star name among six entries for the Unibet Silviniaco Conti Chase at Kempton this Saturday.
The two-and-a-half-mile contest has been upgraded to Grade Two status for 2020 and carries the name of Paul Nicholls’s dual King George hero for the first time.
The Nicky Henderson-trained Altior will be bidding to bounce back from his first defeat in 20 starts over jumps when runner-up to Cyrname in a much anticipated clash at Ascot in November.
Henderson has also entered last year’s winner Top Notch, who is two from two this season after winning over hurdles at Aintree and then in the Peterborough Chase at Huntingdon.
The aforementioned Nicholls is set to rely on the popular Frodon. The eight-year-old grabbed the headlines when winning the Ryanair Chase at last season’s Cheltenham Festival under Bryony Frost.
However, he has finished well beaten in both the Old Roan Chase at Aintree and the Betfair Chase at Haydock so far this term.
Former Grand National-winning jockey Ryan Mania recorded his 200th career winner when Mcgown’s Pass prevailed at Ayr.
It was Mania’s eighth winner since he made a surprising return to the saddle last October following a five-year absence from the sport.
He came to prominence when winning the 2013 Grand National on Auroras Encore for Yorkshire trainers Sue and Harvey Smith.
It was the jockey’s first ride in the world’s greatest steeplechase, but he gave up riding 18 months later because of difficulties keeping his weight under control.
However he maintains that he has never felt better as he continues a fine recent run for Sandy Thomson, his stepfather-in-law, who trains in the Scottish Borders near Kelso.