CONNECTIONS OF Lady Buttons – the Queen of Yorkshire jump racing – are said to be favouring a tilt at the Grade One Betfair Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle this weekend.
She is one of seven horses declared for the prestigious race that is also widely expected to see the reappearance of two-time Champion Hurdle winner Buveur D’Air.
Yet, while this is a formidable test, it looks preferential to a fiercely competitive handicap chase at Newbury – despite Lady Buttons winning the corresponding contest last year under regular rider Adam Nicol.
Trained at Catterick by Phil Kirby, the ever popular Lady Buttons has 13 wins from 29 career starts to her name – the most recent being a crowd-pleasing success in the Listed Mares’ Hurdle at Wetherby on Charlie Hall Chase day which capped Nicol’s comeback after the jockey suffered a badly broken leg in a fall on New Year’s Day.
It is hoped a strong pace from the start could pay to the strengths of Lady Buttons who was also placed at last season’s Cheltenham and Aintree festivals.
“We will make a decision by Thursday – I’m going to watch ‘Buttons’ on the gallops at Middleham today,” Jayne Sivills, who owns the nine-year-old with her husband Keith, told The Yorkshire Post.
“At the moment we are leaning towards the Fighting Fifth over Newbury but we will leave the decision to Phil once he has studied the weights for the Newbury race and everything else.
“We will do what is right for the horse – but would probably be reluctant for her to have to carry top weight at Newbury.”
Victory for Buveur D’Air would see the Nicky Henderson-trained and JP McManus-owned horse emulate the great Comedy Of Errors who landed three consecutive renewals between 1972 and 1974. Birds Nest is the only other three-time winner, scoring in 1976, 1977 and 1979.
Buveur D’Air fell when going for an historic third win in the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham in March, but ended the campaign on a high at the Punchestown Festival.
Also in contention is the Evan Williams-trained Silver Streak who was a creditable third in the Champion Hurdle behind the ill-fated Espoir D’Allen who lost his life in the summer following a freak training accident.
Silver Streak made a winning comeback at Kempton last month and the aforementioned Williams said: “It was a lovely race to start him off in and, given how tough some of his assignments were last season, it was very nice to go and get his head in front.
“This weekend is going to be another tough assignment. I think anyone who thinks Buveur D’Air is not the horse he was needs their head checked.
“We are very grateful to be taking part in a race like this against a horse like Buveur D’Air, who for me has never had the recognition he deserves.”
There is further Yorkshire interest in the race with Micky Hammond’s recent Wetherby winner Cornerstone Lad.
Meanwhile, Nick Alexander’s Lake View Lad heads the field for the Rehearsal Chase – the grey won 12 months ago under Middleham jockey Henry Brooke.
Others of note include the Sue and Harvey Smith-trained staying chaser I Just Know who is on the comeback trail after nearly a year on the injury sidelines.