Australian raider Big Blue is set to test his credentials in the Grade 2 Unibet International Hurdle (3.05pm), the highlight at Cheltenham on day two of The International meeting on Saturday, December 14 . A classy performer on the Flat in France when trained by Andre Fabre, Big Blue has since enjoyed a successful spell in Australia under the care of Ciaron Maher and David Eustace – winning the 2018 ATC St Leger at Randwick and the Galleywood Hurdle at Warrnambool in May.
The seven-year-old, finished third on his latest start in a staying handicap on the Flat at Flemington in November when ridden by Ryan Moore, is a 33/1 shot with the sponsors.
“I am happy with Big Blue. He has been here for around a month now.
“He had another schooling session in Lambourn last week and we were pleased with him.
“Whilst the International Hurdle isn’t the easiest race to start off in, the handicapper hasn’t given him a rating, so we have to start off in conditions events.
“I would have preferred a slightly easier contest, but we are looking forward to seeing how he gets on.”
A handful of horses in recent memory have run at Cheltenham after racing over jumps in Australia, most notably Specular and Zabenz.
Specular was purchased by leading owner J P McManus after coming second in 2003 Grand National Hurdle at Flemington and subsequently finished ninth behind Hardy Eustace in the following year’s Champion Hurdle.
Zabenz won three hurdle races in Australia, including the 2002 Grand National Hurdle, and a Grade 1 chase in America prior to joining Somerset trainer Philip Hobbs. He ran five times at Cheltenham during his career, including when fifth behind Star De Mohaison in the 2008 RSA Chase.
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Triumph Hurdle hero Pentland Hills favourite to make winning return
Betting for the International Hurdle is headed by unbeaten Grade 1 Triumph Hurdle winner Pentland Hills. The Nicky heHenderson trained four-year-old, who went on to round off the campaign with a game victory in a Grade 1 at Aintree’s Grand National Festival, will be making his eagerly awaited seasonal reapprance and is a red-hot 11/8 with Unibet to make it a winning one.
Ch’tibello, trained by Dan Skelton and , winner of the Grade 3 County Handicap Hurdle at this year’s Cheltenham festival is the 3/1 second favourite. Another very interesting contender among 10 that remained at the five-day declaration stage is Colin Tizzard’s Grade 1 Grade 1 Tolworth Hurdle winner Elixir De Nutz (9/2).
Monsieur Lecoq, a fine third in the Grade 3 Greatwood Hurdle Handicap Hurdle at The November Meeting at the home of jumps racing, is 8/1 with Unibet to get back to winning ways.
Kiltealy Briggs set for Albert Bartlett test
Impressive Hexham winner Kiltealy Briggs is set to tackle a rise in class and trip in the Grade 2 Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle, which is also run on Saturday (14:30). The 3m contest is a key trial for the Grade 1 Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle on day four of The Cheltenham Festival in March.
Four winners of the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle at The Festival have previously captured the race at The International – Black Jack Ketchum (2005/06), Nenuphar Collonges (2007/08), Unowhatimeanharry (2015/16) and Kilbricken Storm (2017/18).
This weekend’s contest has also proved a springboard for top-class chasers, with Cheltenham Gold Cup victor Coneygree (2012) and RSA Insurance Novices’ Chase winner Blaklion (2014) featuring among the illustrious roll of honour.
Trained by Jamie Snowden, and owned by the McNeill family, Kiltealy Briggs was beaten a short-head on his debut over hurdles at Wincanton in October. The five-year-old justified even-money favouritism with a facile 36-length success on his latest start over two and a half miles on heavy ground at Hexham in November.
Lambourn-based Snowden said:
“Kiltealy Briggs is in good form. The race at Hexham was all about finding building his confidence and getting his head in front after finishing second on his first couple of starts for us.
“He won that race really well and we were delighted with the performance. This looks like a good race to test how high he can go and we are looking forward to it.”