Saturday 13th December – Cheltenham 3:05pm 2m 1f (2m 179y) (New) Unibet International Hurdle (Grade 2) (Class 1) (4yo+)
The International Hurdle was established in 1963 and was originally called the Cheltenham Trial Hurdle. The race was renamed the Bula Hurdle in 1977 and was named after the horse of the same name who won the Champion Hurdle twice and also won this race in 1972.
Only two horses have won the race three times, with Bird’s Nest winning the event in 1977, 1978 and 1980 and Relkeel winning the race three times in succession between 1997 and 1999.
The race is open to horses aged four years and upwards and the last 25 renewals have seen a spread of winners between four and 10 years old. If a pattern can be established it is that four to six year olds have won 15 of the last 25 renewals including seven of the last 10 renewals although the race was won by an eight year old in 2016 and a 10 year old last year.
The betting market is a much better guide in recent times with nine favourites or joint favourites winning during the last 12 renewals.
Recent winning form is a very good pointer to finding a likely winner with nine of the last 12 horses to win the International winning on their previous start. Nine of the last 12 also ran with 35 days of the race.
As with many events at Cheltenham previous winning form at the course is important with eight of the last 12 winners having previously won at the course and 11 of the 12 had previously run at Cheltenham at least twice.
Horses with previous winning form over the race distance have a good record. Eleven of the previous 12 winners had won over 2 miles to 2 miles 1 furlong at least twice. Ten of the last 12 winners had also run at least five times over the race distance previously.
An Official Rating of 152 or higher has been required to win the race in 11 of the last 12 renewals and nine of the last 12 winners had also previously won a Grade 1 race previously, with 11 of the last 12 winners winning at Grade 1 to 3.
Summerville Boy who runs off an Official Rating of 156 is likely to go off as favourite. The six year old bay gelding has run at Cheltenham three times previously, latterly winning the Grade 1 Supreme Novices Hurdle at the festival in March. He made his seasonal reappearance at Newcastle and badly needed the run coming home fourth of five runners in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle. He was not fluent at his jumps throughout the race and was well beaten two hurdles out.
He is clearly a very talented hurdler so it is to be hoped that the run has brought him on. The betting would suggest so. He has won three times over the race distance and his regular jockey Noel Fehily is in the plate and is riding well at the moment. The forecast Good ground is an unknown for Summerville Boy so if the forecast rain softens the ground his chances will improve.
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