As the last meet held at Cheltenham Racecourse in any calendar year, the International Meeting is an opportunity for horses to gain valuable experience of the track. A ballot of Cheltenham members has taken place with those successful, provided they are not from a place with Tier 3 restrictions brought in by the UK government in response to the coronavirus pandemic, allowed to attend. There may only be a crowd of 2,000 people at Prestbury Park to watch the International Meeting, but that represents progress.
A two-day event starting with a more modest card on the Friday, things really heat up on the Saturday with Grade 3 handicap chase action in the form of the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup. This extended two-and-a-half-mile race has had various sponsors down the years, and is alternatively referred to as the December Gold Cup so as to distinguish it from the November version and the Cheltenham Gold Cup itself. The other feature race of the Cheltenham International Meeting is the Grade 2 International Hurdle, run over an extended two miles. On this page we discuss those and other key events, highlighting contenders for each contest. We also look back on last year’s winners, the history of the International Meeting and why these particular set of races are important.
There are a number of races held during the International Meeting at Cheltenham which serve as trials for the Cheltenham Festival the following March. Don’t let the wintry conditions and ground that often comes as a result of the weather fool you. These races are relevant and shape the betting for events moving forward. Here, we look at these contests from the International Meeting in more detail:
In recent years, this class 3 age restricted novice hurdle has produced notable horses that ran well in the Supreme at the Cheltenham Festival. The 2019 winner, Chantry House, went on to be third in that Grade 1 contest, while Summerville Boy – third here in 2017 – landed the big one.
Any News from the Neil Mulholland stable has been rerouted from Sandown and Grade 2 company to Cheltenham for this after his trainer pulled him out of the Winter Novices’ Hurdle due to the heavy ground. Other previous winners over timber Lord Baddesley and Lucky One carry penalties here, with bumper scorer Make Me A Believer an interesting debutant in this sphere for David Pipe.
A staying steeplechase for novices over fences, this event has gone to useful horses in recent years. The likes of Pym, Grade 1 winning novice hurdler The Worlds End and subsequent Ladbrokes Trophy hero Sizing Tennessee having all landed the spoils here.
This year’s renewal has a good quintet of entries headed by Kim Bailey’s Happygolucky. Colin Tizzard, meanwhile, has Exeter winner L’Air Du Vent engaged with course victor The Mighty Don representing the Nick Gifford stable. Paul Nicholls recruit Fabulous Saga has an absence of 1001 days to overcome on chase debut, while Cheltenham Festival third Hold The Note must improve on subsequent efforts for Mick Channon.
This race produced the Cheltenham Festival Cross Country Chase winner in Easysland last year. The French raider was so impressive in his victory in handicap company here that leading Irish owner JP McManus bought him off the back of it. Irish-trained veteran Bless The Wings, who went on to be third in the 2018 Grand National, also took this Cross Country handicap back in 2017. Welsh trainer Christian Williams has indicated that Potters Corner, a fine third on his debut in this discipline at the November Meeting, will run around the Cross Country course again instead of launching a repeat bid in the Welsh Grand National at Chepstow over Christmas.
The absence of 2019 winner Easysland and Welsh Grand National winner Potters Corner has left this race open. Some Neck made an encouraging banks debut at Punchestown in the Risk Of Thunder Chase when staying on into third on debut for new handler John McConnell behind Neverushacon. Jessica Harrington’s horses has certainly taken to this discipline, but the longer distance of Cheltenham Cross Country races remains a question mark. Beau Du Brizais made an encouraging bow over the course in November for the Philip Hobbs stable, and now meets Kingwell Theatre on 5lb better terms. New top-weight Step Back is also an interesting debutant in this sphere.
Defi Du Seuil (2016) is perhaps the most famous recent winner of this class 2 Triumph Hurdle Trial after going on to win at two Cheltenham Festivals and multiple Grade 1s. Other juveniles to have come out of the race and run well include 2018 scorer Nelson River. He was fourth in the 2019 Triumph Hurdle.
Eight horses entered in this Triumph Hurdle Trial also have the alternative option of the Summit Juvenile Hurdle at Doncaster on the same day. Irish raider Duffle Coat took a Grade 2 over course and distance at the November Meeting, so it will be interesting to see if trainer Gordon Elliott wants to get more course experience into him. Monmiral, meanwhile, bolted up at Exeter and Paul Nicholls must now decide whether to run here or up north.
This middle-distance novice chase has actually served as a trial for a number of different Cheltenham Festival races in recent times. Last year’s winner Mister Fisher went on to be fourth in the Marsh, while 2018 scorer Drovers Lane came sixth in the RSA. The runner-up, Le Breuil, went on to land the National Hunt Chase at the Festival; and 2017 second Coo Star Sivola took the Ultima Handicap Chase on the grand stage.
Nicky Henderson sends Supreme Novices’ Hurdle third Chantry House out here rather than the longer distance race on the Friday of the The International Meeting. He is looking to follow-up on an easy chasing debut success at Ascot for leading Irish owner JP McManus. It remains to be seen if stable companion Fusil Raffles will run at Cheltenham again after pulling up last month. Arkle Trial runner-up Quel Destin could step up in trip for Paul Nicholls here, though.
Cheltenham specialist Frodon won this race, also called the December Gold Cup, twice in the past four seasons. In the early days of the event, equine legends like Flyingbolt and Pendil were both successful in it. A Grade 3 handicap chase, the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup is the big betting race of the Cheltenham International Meeting each and every year. Among the ante post betting market leaders from the early closing entries for the 2020 renewal are Paddy Power Gold Cup third Al Dancer (although he has an entry in the Peterborough Chase at Huntingdon) and Nicky Henderson trained novice Caribean Boy. Other principals include Kim Bailey trained First Flow (winner of the Hurst Park Handicap Chase at Ascot) and Cheltenham Festival Stable Plate hero Simply The Betts.
Paddy Power Gold Cup third Al Dancer could bid to go a couple of places better here after not taking up his entry in the rearranged Peterborough Chase. He is prominent in the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup betting alongside northern raider Windsor Avenue, Paul Nicholls’ Haydock graduation chase winner Master Tommytucker and Coole Cody. The latter is trying to follow-up on a game success in the Paddy Power at the November Meeting, but does have a 6lb rise in the weights to contend with.
Registered as the Bristol Novices’ Hurdle, so as to distinguish it from the Albert Bartlett race run at the Cheltenham Festival, this event tests stamina. Lisnagar Oscar, who was runner-up in 2018, went on to land the 2020 Stayers’ Hurdle. Kilbricken Storm, meanwhile, won both this Grade 2 trial and the Albert Bartlett itself in the same season.
Late-swooping Monksfield Novice Hurdle winner Fakiera is an eye-catching possible Irish raider this year for Gordon Elliott, and should appreciate stepping up in trip based on how he saw that Navan Grade 3 win out. Wetherby and Uttoxeter handicap scorer Ashtown Lad looks the best of the home team for Dan Skelton, while Ask A Honey Bee was an unlucky loser in The French Furze up at Newcastle and should appreciate this trip.
With a rich roll of honour that includes triple winners Birds Nest, Relkeel and The New One, the International Hurdle (previously called the Bula Hurdle) is on the agenda for Gary Moore’s Goshen. Many Cheltenham Festival hopefuls uses the race as a stepping stone to the Champion Hurdle, as it is one of the unofficial trials for that major event.
Goshen could make his much-anticipated return to hurdles after running a few races on the Flat. Gary Moore is very bullish about his horse’s chances and connections are out for compensation following the infamous unseating after jumping the final flight when clear in the Triumph Hurdle. Tom Symonds is having a fine season with his stable, so Ascot Coral Hurdle scorer Song For Someone is another contender here. Silver Streak had no luck whatsoever in the Fighting Fifth up at Newcastle when carried out just before the second obstacle by a loose horse, so Evan Williams may run his popular grey in the International Hurdle again instead. Sceau Royal could quickly reappear after chasing home Champion Hurdle favourite Epatante on Tyneside earlier in the month.
There are Cheltenham International Meeting offers before and during the two days of action. You can expect to find extra places for each-way bets stuck on big field handicaps like the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup and enhanced odds promotions from online bookmakers. They want your business and offer bettors incentives to take a punt. With 48-hour declarations at the International Meeting, you should receive non-runner no bet terms on all wagers placed after that stage. Look out for best odds guaranteed when you get bets on during the day of the races in question. You can see all the leading sign up offers and promotions here:
Eight of the 14 favourites at the Cheltenham International Meeting in 2019 won races. That is higher than average and meant that more horses at shorter prices were successful over the two days. It could pay to follow market moves and leaders closely, then.
Nicky Henderson enjoyed five wins at the last International Meeting too, so expect him to have the inmates of his Seven Barrows stable prime again this year. He has also won the International Hurdle itself a record six times in each of the last three years.
Richard Johnson is the most successful jockey, meanwhile, with six victorious rides. He is also leading rider in the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup, partnering three different horses to land the spoils. The top trainer in that big betting handicap is Paul Nicholls with his five victories all coming between 2009 and 2019.
For the Albert Bartlett Trial (registered as the Bristol Novices’ Hurdle), Nigel Twiston-Davies has trained a record five winners including three since 2014. It is also worth keeping an eye on the Colin Tizzard yard in this race, as it has sent out successful horses in two of the last three seasons.
The International Meeting races are chances for trainers to get runs and valuable course experience of Cheltenham into their horses well ahead of the Festival. There are other trials, like the November Meeting and the cards on New Year’s Day and Festival Trials Day, but these events may test the equine athletes on show over different distances. The only Albert Bartlett trial that takes place at Cheltenham is during the International Meeting, for instance. Other than the Greatwood Hurdle, which is a handicap, the only other Champion Hurdle trial at the course is the International Hurdle. With the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup, it can be a Ryanair Chase trial, so the graded races can have an impact on the Cheltenham Festival betting.
Bookmakers have their eye on horses running in the International Meeting races, and will shorten up any winners for future assignments. They will do this with particular reference to the Cheltenham Festival. Ante post markets can change based on the results at the International Meeting. The bookies respect course and distance success and form, because they know that not every horse takes to the unique undulations of Prestbury Park. With any Cheltenham winners, or horses who have run well at the track, it is standard policy for the betting traders to shorten their odds for the Festival. The importance of the International Meeting, as demonstrated by horses that earned victory last year that you will see below, cannot be understated then. If the bookies take such a long-term view, then it may pay for punters to do likewise.
The 2018 Unibet International Hurdle was a competitive affair as we went 4/1 the field with Western Ryder heading the market. Warren Greatrex’s runner could do no better than fourth though as Nicky Henderson took the spoils with his 7/1 shot Brain Power, the mount of Nico de Boinville who was subsequently aimed at the Champion Hurdle.
Course favourite Frodon was a different proposition however; Bryony Frost’s ultra-tough mount won for the second time in the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup before going on to win the Ryanair Chase in March. Here are the last ten winners of the two big races, along with how well they did at the subsequent Festival.
Some very good horses have won at what has become known as the International Meeting down the years. Pendil holds the unique distinction of winning both the International Hurdle (1970) and the December Gold Cup (1973), and is the only horse in history to have done so. The two big races, both inaugurated in 1963, are trials for the Cheltenham Festival.
The International Hurdle was previously called the Bula Hurdle, named in honour of Bula who won this race in 1972 and the Champion Hurdle twice. Many of the best hurdlers of yesteryear, including Comedy Of Errors, Sea Pigeon and Birds Nest won it too. The last horse to win both the International Hurdle and Champion Hurdle in the same season was Rooster Booster.
There have been some remarkable weight carrying performances in the December Gold Cup, meanwhile. Flyingbolt, the second highest rated steeplechase in National Hunt horse racing history, shouldered 12st 6lb when landing the spoils in 1965. Pendil carried top-weight of 12st 7lb in 1973, meanwhile, and Frodon’s second victory in the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup in 2018 saw him successful under 11st 12lb.