THERE have been some superb sporting events in the North-East this year.

The Great North Run was as emotional and thrilling as ever, with Mo Farah claiming a record fifth victory. There have been some exciting football games in the region, with Newcastle United thrashing Chelsea and Middlesbrough making the Championship play-offs. England’s one-day demolition of Australia at Emirates Riverside was a real summer highlight.

In terms of pure sporting quality, though, Newcastle Racecourse might well have saved the best for last. Tomorrow’s Fighting Fifth Hurdle is the best horse race staged in the North-East for more than a decade, indeed it might not be stretching things too far to describe it as the best of all time. The stars have aligned to leave three of the most talented horses in training taking each other on at Gosforth Park.

It is increasingly rare for the leading equine stars on either side of the Irish Sea to line up against each other outside of the major spring festivals at Cheltenham and Aintree, and the Fighting Fifth, Newcastle’s flagship jumps race, has suffered as a result. The race has had some decent winners in the last few years, but they have tended to triumph in a procession. That will not be the case tomorrow.

Two-time Champion Hurdler, Buveur D’Air, takes on Samcro, winner of last year’s Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham and widely proclaimed as the next Irish wonder-horse. As if that was not intoxicating enough, there’s also last year’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle winner, Summerville Boy, taking his first step into open graded company. It might just be the first day of December, but racing fans are in for a pre-Christmas treat.

Buveur D’Air will start as favourite tomorrow – Nicky Henderson’s star hurdler is currently trading at a shade of odds-on – and has to be regarded as the likeliest winner.

The seven-year-old has dominated the hurdling division in the last two seasons, yet it could be argued that he has not yet got the respect he deserves.

His detractors claim he has not really had to beat anything to win back-to-back Champion Hurdles, but that is a harsh assessment. Two years ago, he demolished a field that contained Footpad and Sceau Royal, two of this season’s most exciting two-mile chasers, and last year he had to dig deep to repel the battling Melon, who remains one of the apples of Willie Mullins’ eye.

He is not always the flashiest of hurdlers, but his jumping could not be any slicker and he will be looking to record his 11th straight victory when he lines up tomorrow. He has only been beaten once over hurdles in his life, and that was when he finished behind Altior and Min in one of the best Supremes of the last decade. If he cruises to victory tomorrow, perhaps his greatness will finally be acknowledged.

That is not a given though, partly because of the strength of the challenge he faces and partly because there are question marks about his form in the early part of the season. He also started last season’s campaign in the Fighting Fifth, but while he won, his three-and-a-half length beating of Irving was comfortably his poorest run of the campaign.

The strength of tomorrow’s field has been known for quite some time, so there is every chance Henderson will have Buveur D’Air nearer his peak than might have been the case if Samcro and Summerville Boy had not been running. Even so, he will have to go close to reproducing March’s Cheltenham form if he is to keep his winning run going.

That said though, I fully expect him to beat Samcro. Gordon Elliott’s Ballymore winner was lauded as the greatest thing in racing for most of last season, but his colours were lowered when he was beaten by Bedrock, who re-opposes tomorrow and should not be completely overlooked, at Down Royal.

In the wake of that race, questions were asked about the decision to keen Samcro over hurdles this season rather than embarking on a novice chase campaign. To me, though, the size of the obstacles is not the issue. I don’t think Samcro is a natural two-miler, and provided there is not an overnight deluge to turn tomorrow’s ground heavy, I expect Buveur D’Air’s pace over his hurdles to expose Samcro’s less economical approach.

Watch a replay of last year’s Ballymore, and you’ll see Samcro powering up the Cheltenham hill once his stamina really started coming into play. His strength is the size of his engine, and while it would be regarded as heresy to say it in front of his Irish fans, I see him as more of a World Hurdler than a true two-miler. The same would be true over fences – I’d always have him in the RSA rather than the Arkle.

Summerville Boy is the complete opposite. He’s much closer to Buveur D’Air in terms of his running style, and while his stamina also came to the fore as he battled past Kalashnikov in the final furlong of last year’s Supreme, all his best form has been at two miles rather than two-and-a-half.

He wouldn’t want the ground to be too quick, and he needs to brush up on his jumping given that he clattered two of the final three fences while winning the Supreme. His trainer, Tom George, is convinced his hurdling has improved markedly over the winter though, and it is surely instructive that Summerville Boy is running tomorrow even though there would have been much easier options for his first run out of the novice division.

The form of last year’s Supreme is still something of an unknown, although Kalashnikov and Mengli Khan, who was third, have both made winning starts as novice chasers. There was something about Summerville’s Boy success in March that suggested it was an up-to-scratch renewal, though, and the vibes that have surrounded him throughout the winter could hardly have been any stronger. At the very least, I expect tomorrow’s run to put him right in the Champion Hurdle mix.

The field has cut up somewhat beneath the big three, so it is to be hoped the race does not turn out to be a tactical affair. If all three run anywhere close to their top form, it should be a cracker, bolstering the Fighting Fifth’s status as one of the leading hurdle races on the calendar. I’ll take Buveur D’Air to edge Summerville Boy into second. The safest bet, though, is that it’ll be great to watch.