2019 International Hurdle tips – Henderson’s 7/4 chance can cement Champion Hurdle claims with Cheltenham victory
Get Brian Healy's runner by runner guide and big race tip for the Unibet International Hurdle, Saturday's feature race at Cheltenham.
The feature race of Saturday’s second day of their International Meeting sees the eponymously-titled International Hurdle – spearheaded by leading bookmaker Unibet – go to post at 3.05pm as the fifth race on another competitive and high-class racecard.
The classy 2m 1f contest over the New Course at Cheltenham carries a first-prize pot of almost £80,000 and a field of nine runners will face the starters’ tape for the day’s highlight contest where there could be a Champion Hurdle contender lurking amongst the runners, although the last horse to do the International Hurdle and Champion Hurdle double in the same season was Rooster Booster back in the 2002/03 jumps season.
More recent winners of this race include high-class sorts in My Tent Or Yours, triple-winner The New One, Zarkander, Menorah and Binocular.
The race features a very interesting runner in Big Blue (50/1, Coral) who makes the long journey to Prestbury Park from Australia, but the Galileo gelding looks up against it tackling this field.
He was a fair sort on the flat when trained in his younger days in France by Andre Fabre, and while undoubtedly useful in Australia he arrives here on the back of some recent reversals on the flat. His last win came at Warrnambool when taking the Galleywood Hurdle, but that form is hard to quantify and he is likely best watched to see how he gets on at this level.
Elixir De Nuts (13/2, Coral) meanwhile could make his long-awaited return to action having missed almost a year off, and Colin Tizzard’s charge could go well if fully tuned up for his reappearance.
The Al Namix gelding proved to be a highly-progressive sort last term following his move from Philip Hobbs, winning three of his four starts for the Dorset handler which included a defeat of Grand Sancy to win the Grade One Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown.
His two previous successes had come at this venue, with one each on the Old and New Courses, including the Grade Two Sharp Novices’ Hurdle, and he has won on both good and soft ground so he’s unlikely to be fazed by whichever underfoot conditions prevail on Saturday.
However, he was ruled out of Cheltenham last term after sustaining an injury in the lead up to the Festival and hasn’t been seen since so he might just need this return to action if lining up.
Nicky Henderson saddles both Triumph Hurdle winner PENTLAND HILLS (7/4, Unibet) and Call Me Lord in this contest, and the former ought to take plenty of beating despite this being his seasonal return which may just be needed.
The Motivator gelding was a decent sort on the level for Chris Wall, but he has thrived since being switched to hurdling by the Seven Barrows maestro, and he is undefeated in three starts over timber which include not only the Triumph Hurdle but also the 4-Y-O Juvenile Hurdle at Aintree where he beat Fakir D’oudairies.
This is a tougher test of his credentials now tackling his elders, but he has the chance to emerge as a bonafide Champion Hurdle contender with a win, and with this race perhaps not being the strongest of renewals then a winning return looks a real possibliity and this looks a decent opportunity for him to do so.
Call Me Lord (5/1, Paddy Power) meanwhile has a run under his belt, which came when finding If The Cap Fits too strong in the recent Coral Hurdle where he travelled best in the race before perhaps just finding a lack of sharpness telling in the closing stages.
That was a good effort nonetheless by the Slickly gelding who won the 2018 Select Hurdle at Sandown having only narrowly failed to win the Imperial Cup the time before under a welter burden. He’s winless in three outings since his last success, which came when beating Lil Rockerfeller by a wide margin at the Esher track, and he’ll surely strip a lot fitter for his recent return to action.
However, he has only raced right-handed on largely flat tracks during his time with Henderson so now going left handed on a more undulating track presents a wholly different proposition, and it remains to be seen how he’ll cope with such a marked change; while his best form has come in testing ground so rain would be welcome although he might not get enough of it.
Dan Skelton’s Ch’tibello (4/1, Bet365) is a solid and very smart performer, and the Sageburg gelding actually comes into the race rated 4lbs higher than Pentland Hills so it wouldn’t come as a surprise to see another big performance.
He ended a losing streak stretching back to November 2016 and winning at Haydock when successful in the County Hurdle back in March where he was something of a handicap blot in his defeat of We Have A Dream, and he followed up that outing with a fine third behind Supasundae at Aintree in the Grade One Aintree Hurdle.
Inbetween those runs however, he had acquitted himself really well in Graded company, including in the 2018 Champion Hurdle, and this race has been on the agenda for some time. He is proven over trip and ground although he stays further, and he could make this a decent test of others’ stamina at the business end although he seems at his best off a strong pace which he isn’t guaranteed to get here.
Monsieur Lecoq (12/1, Unibet) won at Sandown last term before finding only Malaya too strong in the Imperial Cup, and Nick Williams’ charge was a respectable tenth in the County Hurdle behind Ch’tibello where he kept on well despite not being ideally placed.
He had unshipped his rider on the way to post and probably wasn’t seen to best effect; and he showed what he can do when getting back on the scoresheet at Ffos Las in October when beating Le Prezien in the Welsh Champion Hurdle.
The Diamond Boy gelding subsequently went down all guns blazing here last month when beaten only a half-length into third behind Harambe having been run down late. This represents a tougher test on more unfavourable terms, and while still potentially progressive he probably needs much softer ground than he’ll get here to show his best.
Le Patriote (14/1, William Hill) struck a hat-trick of wins last term either side of a six-months break, travelling well to win the Swinton Hurdle at Haydock in May, and Dr Richard Newland’s charge made a promising return to action when finishing fourth in the Coral Hurdle behind Call Me Lord.
He travelled well into that contest, but fitness became an issue late on and he faded out of contention to cross the line almost twenty lengths adrift of the winner. He should come on for that effort however, but while still arguably progressive he needs to raise his game again and has to prove he deserves a place at this higher level.
Gumball (25/1, Ladbrokes) is a likeable sort and the No Risk At All gelding has proven to be a very useful performer on both the flat and over hurdles, scoring in the latter sphere at Ascot last month to collect a Listed prize by a neck from Red Force One.
Philip Hobbs’ charge subsequently lost no caste in defeat when narrowly denied by Harambe here latest, but this is a considerably tougher test he faces now and he has come up short at this level in the past.
Likely to be the pace angle, he can nevertheless give a good account of himself although he’s likely to find a couple of these too good.
Completing the field, Nigel Twiston-Davies’ Ballyandy (33/1, Paddy Power) has been a grand servant for connections, winning the Champion Bumper in 2016 and striking in the Betfair Hurdle the following year as well as finishing fourth in a Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.
Also a winner over fences, he has largely run with credit in defeat although did win at Uttoxeter in January, and he rounded off last campaign finishing third behind William Henry in the Coral Cup here in March.
He’s had two starts this term at Chepstow and Wetherby, and he reportedly lost a show in his last outing behind The World’s End when finishing fourth in the West Yorkshire Hurdle. That performance however has forced a rethink by connections as he was touted as a Stayers’ Hurdle candidate prior to that run, and he’s not certain to appreciate a drop to two miles here he looks to have plenty on his plate.
PENTLAND HILLS (7/4, Unibet) sets out on the Champion Hurdle trail in what looks a relatively weak renewal of this Grade Two prize, and Nicky Henderson’s charge could cement his claims as the main Seven Barrows hope for March’s Grade One hurdling crown with doubts surrounding both Buveur D’air and Fusil Raffles.
The ex-Flat racing performer is 3-3 over timber since joining this yard, bagging successive Grade Ones last season in both the Triumph Hurdle and 4-Y-O Hurdle, and the Motivator gelding could prove a tough nut to crack on his seasonal reappearance if fully wound up.
He did win first time up last term, and this looks a decent opportunity for him to do so again where he can get his season off to the perfect start with a fourth successive hurdles success.
2019 UNIBET INTERNATIONAL HURDLE SELECTION – PENTLAND HILLS (7/4, Unibet)