Middleham trainer Micky Hammond confirms Cornerstone Lad will head to Cheltenham Festival - weather permitting

Micky Hammond
Micky Hammond
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Cornerstone Lad will take his chance in the Cheltenham Festival’s Unibet Champion Hurdle – providing conditions are deemed suitable.

Having won at Catterick and Wetherby in the autumn, the six-year-old provided his Middleham-based trainer Micky Hammond with a first Grade One success – inflicting a shock defeat on dual Champion Hurdle hero Buveur D’Air in the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle.

Cornerstone Lad’s winning run came to an end in last week’s The New One Unibet Hurdle at Haydock, but he was far from disgraced in finishing third – beaten less than a length and conceding weight to both the winner Ballyandy and runner-up Pentland Hills.

Hammond said: “He’s taken his race well, and we were delighted with him on the day.

“I thought it was a good performance, giving away weight to two really good horses.

“If the ground is soft enough we’ll go to Cheltenham. There aren’t many other options, to be fair.

“We’ll probably go chasing with him next season, which will be something to look forward to.”

Cornerstone Lad is a best priced 50-1 for the Champion Hurdle on March 10.

Meanwhile, Colin Tizzard will be at ease if he has to send The Big Breakaway to the Festival without another run.

Tizzard had planned to send his expensive purchase to Cheltenham Trials Day for the race he won instead with stablemate Harry Senior, but a knock to a joint ruled him out.

While Tizzard still hopes there is time to give The Big Breakaway another prep run, he believes the experience already gained in point-to-points will stand him in good stead.

The Dorset trainer said: “He knocked his hock, and we have just been a bit careful with him.

“We will probably run him in about a fortnight’s time – and if we don’t get there he will go straight to the Festival.

“He doesn’t need to run again. He has been pointing last season, so he has experience.”

Tizzard would prefer to head straight to Cheltenham than ask The Big Breakaway to exert too much energy en route.

He added: “What we don’t want to do is leave any chance of winning in his next race – because we want our engine for the Festival completely full. (Assistant) Joe (Tizzard) thinks he is a two-and-a-half-miler, and I think he is a three-miler.”

Tizzard has an embarrassment of riches in the novice-hurdling department this year – with Fiddlerontheroof, Master Debonair and Harry Senior already booked in for Cheltenham.

If The Cap Fits is far from certain to take up his entry in the Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle after being “put in his place” by Paisley Park at Cheltenham.

Having made a successful start to his campaign at Ascot in November, the Harry Fry-trained If The Cap Fits was widely considered the biggest threat to Emma Lavelle’s star stayer in the Cleeve Hurdle – yet he could finish only fifth on Saturday.

Paisley Park is odds-on with most bookmakers to win the Stayers’ Hurdle again – and Fry will consider sidestepping a rematch in favour of waiting for Ryanair Stayers Hurdle at Aintree, which If The Cap Fits won last season.

“He’s come out of the race with no issues – but we were very disappointed with the run, obviously,” Fry said. “He was firmly put in his place by Paisley Park, who looks unbeatable at the moment.”

Lingfield must pass an inspection this morning for its jumps card – with the going heavy and some areas of standing water.