Winning the Fighting Fifth Hurdle has been somewhat of a poisoned chalice in recent years, with the last four winners going agonisingly close in the Champion Hurdle the following March (finishing 2322), nevertheless the eight engaged will be gunning for a big Grade 1 prize.
The quality of this renewal may be lacking somewhat, but that doesn’t make finding the winner any easier.
What is clear, is that it takes a classy horse to win this race, with the last eight victors rated 150+.
And despite her fillies weight allowance Aurore D’Estruval (5/1) would need to improve even further to win off a rating of 143.
The key piece of form may well be the Elite Hurdle at Wincanton three weeks ago.
Approaching the last, Paul Nicholls’ Irving (7/4) was about to mount his challenge, but got it all wrong and came crashing down.
This left PURPLE BAY (6/1) to pick up the pieces. And it would probably be unfair to suggest that he definitely wouldn’t have won even without the market leaders’ tumble.
Even allowing for the uncertainty, at over three times the price of Irving, there can only be one bet here.
Past form has looked key in recent runnings of this contest, with the last 14 victors coming home in the first two last time out, as well as 15 winners in 16 years having already tasted success in a Grade 1 or Grade 2 contest.
And as impressive as he was Sign of a Victory (9/4) needs to step up from his Listed victory at the start of the month, but with ground likely to be softer than ideal, is tentatively passed over.
Willie Mullins sends out Arctic Fire (5/1) as his runner, and looks a decidedly weak representative, by his standards anyway.
While steady, he looks well short of winning a Grade 1 race, even in this company.
At the prices, PURPLE BAY really does look a good bet, considering he is 11lbs clear on ratings on the field.
John Ferguson is operating at an extremely solid strike-rate of 28% in the past fortnight, winning with 32% of his runners over hurdles this campaign.
He also has Sea Lord (16/1) entered in the race, but looks the second-string, having been well beaten at Aintree at the tail-end of last season, and coming into this off the back of a 238 absence.
But with the stable in form, Ferguson’s purple patch is on course to continue.
All odds and markets correct as of the date of publishing
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