The winter jumping season is once again approaching, and we will have many familiar old faces returning, as well as several new ones making their debuts. Over the coming days and weeks I will be providing detailed essays on some of our horses that will hopefully be in the winners enclosure very shortly. Today I start with our stable star.
CORNERSTONE LAD. 12 April 2014. Delegator-Chapel Corner. Owner-Mrs B M Lofthouse.
Cornerstone Lad is a freak of his breeding, everything about it tells you he has no right to be a Grade 1 winner, or even an above average handicapper for that matter. His unraced dam is by the high class eight to 10 furlongs winner Alhaarth, which does provide a certain amount of hope for stamina, but his sire Delegator didn't want anymore than a mile, and had the speed to win a Duke of York over six furlongs. Delegator is a producer of good flat handicappers at best, and has only produced two offspring to date with official ratings in excess of 100 on the flat. His jumps record is abysmal, with Cornerstone Lad being his only hurdles winner from just 15 runners to date.
Cornerstone Lad was purchased at the Doncaster breeze up sales in the spring of 2016, and made his debut in October in a decent York maiden over a mile, after being slow in to stride, he made some late headway to finish eighth, beaten by 12 lengths. He raced on one more occasion as a two year old, when making no show at Redcar over seven furlongs in November.
He returned as a three year old in April 2017 at Thirsk over a mile, where he finished in seventh place, once again making a little late headway, but receiving his first handicap mark of 61. He made his handicap debut at Ripon in June, staying on in to second over 10 furlongs, at 11/1, having been slightly hampered two out. At Pontefract in July, and with William Buick booked, and stepping up to 12 furlongs, he was once again doing his best work at the finish, to come home in third place.He was back at Pontefract 27 days later, but put in a disappointing performance to only beat one home.He fared better at Catterick after a short break in September, but could only manage fifth of the seven runners.He got off the mark at the eighth time of asking at Pontefract in September over 12 furlongs in soft going with Philip Makin in the saddle, on the softest ground he had encountered so far, from a mark of 62. His final start on the flat as a three year old was three weeks later at Redcar over 14 furlongs, from a 5lb higher mark, where he ran on in to third, beaten by three and three quarter lengths.
Cornerstone Lad made his juvenile hurdle debut 24 days later at Hexham, in an average looking hurdles race for the track, where under Henry Brooke he came away comfortably to win by eight lengths. He next took on hot company at Wetherby under a penalty on December 27th, when finishing a slightly disappointing third to the then highly touted Albert's Back. The second horse that day was Turning Gold, and they would meet at Catterick on the same terms 15 days later, but this time Cornerstone Lad reversed the form, to win for the second time over jumps by a length. In the prestigious Grade 2 Victor Ludorum hurdle at Haydock in February the two met again, but this time on a further 2lb worse terms Turning Gold won by a nose. Cornerstone Lad next went back to Hexham in March, and was rightly sent off the 2/5 favourite in a five runner event, but could only finish second to Pc Dixon, who made all under a clever ride from Tommy Dowson, a horse who at that time was rated 47lb his inferior, At Carlisle in April, with Henry Brooke back in the saddle, and wearing first time cheek pieces Cornerstone Lad stayed on to be second, but still ran a long way below his 134 rating in novice hurdle company.His final start as a juvenile was at Perth in April, where he filled the third spot, but not matching his Victor Ludorum form.
Cornerstone Lad reappeared on the flat at Redcar in November, finishing a satisfactory fifth in a race that would have put him straight for a return to hurdles.With Alain Cawley riding for the first time he finished a good second in a Class 3 handicap off 129 at Wetherby in early December. At Haydock two weeks later Billy Garritty rode him for the first time claiming a massive 10lb, and he was back in the winners enclosure in heavy ground. Cornerstone Lad next contested the prestigious Morebattle Hurdle over two miles and two furlongs at Kelso, but although finishing third, this was a disappointing run, with maybe his stamina giving way.Back at two miles, and with Billy Garritty back in the saddle claiming 7lb, Cornerstone Lad reappeared at Newcastle in April, when comfortably winning, and putting up his best performance yet, from a mark of 139.His final race before a break was on the flat at Carlisle in May, when only finding his stablemate Only Orsenfoolies a neck too good on the day. Cornerstone Lad had the summer off and returned on the flat at Catterick in October, where over two miles on his favoured heavy ground he demolished a field of 11 opponents by 12 lengths, from a mark of 65.At Wetherby in November he took his form to the next level when comfortably winning the Class 3 handicap hurdle from a mark of 142, and there was now talk of an outrageous bid at the Fighting Fifth hurdle later that month.
On November 30th, 2019 Micky Hammond has his biggest success as a trainer to date when Cornerstone Lad won the Fighting Fifth Hurdle Grade 1 by a short head from the duel champion hurdle winner Buveur D'Air, with the wonderful yardstick Silver Streak in third, and the top class mare Lady Buttons in forth. We all know what happened to Buveur D'Air that day, but Cornerstone Lad still put up a Grade 1 winning performance.In the Unibet Hurdle Grade 1 at Haydock in January 2020, Cornerstone Lad arguably improved on his Fighting Fifth run, when under a 6lb penalty, he failed by just three quarters of a length, finishing third to Ballyandy, and Pentlands Hill, showing that without any shadow of a doubt has Grade 1 success at Newcastle had been no fluke. The obvious target was the champion hurdle at Cheltenham in March, and although it would have been nigh on impossible for any horse that day to give 7lb to the top class mare Epatante, it was very disappointing to see Cornerstone Lad drop away from four out. After the race it was decided to give him wind surgery, before his return.
As has become customary Cornerstone Lad returned to the racecourse after his summer break with a spin on the flat. In October he didn't seem quite as forward as in previous seasons, and duly finished fourth at Redcar. It was decided a second flat run would do him good, and back at Redcar in early November he showed guts to match his class, when under Billy Garritty, after looking held he rallied gamely to win by a neck. The brave decision to go chasing was taken, and Cornerstone Lad made his novice chase debut at Haydock under Billy Garritty in December. For a novice, with no experience his jumping was excellent, and although coming under pressure three out, he once again rallied well to finish second. For 95% of the horse population a Racing Post Rating of 142 for his efforts would be wonderful, but this is a hurdler out of the top drawer, suggesting he ran about 17lb below his hurdles mark.His second run over fences was in a two runner race at Ayr in January where he had to give the sex allowance of 7lb to the 148 rated Coral Cup winner Dame De Compagnie, he once again wore his heart on his sleeve, going down fighting, but once again running at least 14lb below his best hurdles mark. His final start to date was a return to hurdles in February 2021 in the prestigious Grade 2 'National Spirit Hurdle,' although having underfoot conditions in his favour, once again it appeared that a trip in excess of two miles does stretch his stamina, although something was clearly amiss as he pulled up before the last. TO BE CONTINUED.
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