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International Hurdle Preview: Changing Of The Guard

Formerly known as the Bula Hurdle, in honour of the dual Champion Hurdle winner who also won this race in 1972, the Unibet International Hurdle has been a happy hunting ground for six-time winner Richard Johnson.

International Hurdle Preview: Changing Of The Guard

Formerly known as the Bula Hurdle, in honour of the dual Champion Hurdle winner who also won this race in 1972, the Unibet International Hurdle has been a happy hunting ground for six-time winner Richard Johnson.

His first win came courtesy of Relkeel in 1997, who also provided another – two years later – when landing the final of his own three wins in the race, while Johnson’s most recent victory came aboard The New One in 2016, the third of that horse’s own trio of wins in the race.

We Have A Dream
We Have A Dream Picture:Photo by Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images


Time to say goodbye

The New One is in the veteran stage now but features among 11 entries for Saturday’s renewal. He was a gallant length and a quarter second when attempting to concede 6 lb to the recently-retired My Tent Or Yours last season, but his efforts since winning the Champion Hurdle Trial at Haydock last January suggest that his star is very much on the wane. He will wear headgear for the first time in an attempt to spark him back for life, but if it doesn’t work then this ‘Cup Final’ may be his final appearance.

Call Me Lord
Call Me Lord Picture:Pat Healy Photography

Though one of those horses that appears to have been around as long, the three-years-younger Old Guard is back for another crack at a race he won in 2015 (also placed in 2016, and seventh last year). He’s been as good as ever this season, producing four smart performances in succession, including when a length and a half second to If The Cap Fits in the 19f Coral Hurdle last time. He was conceding weight to the winner that day, making the effort all the more meritorious, but faces a similar challenge here.

Lord and master?

Call Me Lord Horseform, at five, is younger again, and is the third horse who will carry the maximum weight here if taking his chance. Bar a slight blip when seemingly done for toe in the Kingwell, he improved with each start last season, rounding it off with an impressive 16-length beating of Lil Rockerfeller in the 21.5f Select Hurdle at Sandown in April. Back in trip here, his chance would increase with significant rain.

The fellow Nicky Henderson-trained and Simon Munir/Isaac Soude-owned We Have A Dream Horseform was progressive and unbeaten in Britain in 2017/18, including the Anniversary Hurdle at Aintree (impressively, by seven lengths from Gumball), but he has been a little disappointing in two starts this season, for all he hasn’t been far off his peak ratings. He was too keen and didn’t jump overly well in the Coral Hurdle last time, but two miles and good-to-soft ground should prove ideal and he should be respected here.

Henderson could also run Brain Power, whose chasing career has never taken off; his best hurdling form has come away from Cheltenham, though.

First real test

The Willie Mullins-trained mare Laurina tops Timeform ’s weight-adjusted ratings. A tall, unfurnished sort, who has plenty of scope for further improvement, she made a big impression in an unbeaten campaign last season, her four wins including the Dawn Run Mares' Novices' Hurdle over C&D (impressively by 18 lengths from Cap Soleil). It’s very hard to put a finger on the limit to her talent, as she’s yet to be fully stretched despite winning two Grade 1s, but this would be her first race against males/outside of novice company. She missed an engagement in the Coral Hurdle because of drying ground, though, and isn’t a confirmed runner here despite Saturday’s forecast rain.

Fighting fit?

Summerville Boy excelled in testing ground last season, winning the Tolworth Novices' Hurdle at Sandown and Supreme Novices' Hurdle on the Old Course here (by a neck from Kalashnikov). He was below form when only fourth to Buveur d'Air in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle on his reappearance, where he didn’t jump well, but that was a tough race and he wasn’t unduly punished once his chance was gone. Back on this happy hunting ground, he looks sure to be back to his old self. Vision des Flos finished ahead of Summerville Boy at Gosforth Park and while he was only picking up the pieces there, his placed form in novice Grade 1s at Aintree and Punchestown last season looks good on paper.

Greatwood form

With Unison, who usually operates at a lower level than this, unlikely to feature prominently, the only others to mention are Silver Streak and Western Ryder, who were second and fifth respectively in the Greatwood Handicap Hurdle (where Old Guard was an outpaced third) last time.

The first-named underlined his status as one of the most progressive two-milers around, coming from that bit further back than a winner who'd been given a big chance by the handicapper, and deserves this rise in grade, while Western Ryder went well for a long way on his return from seven months off. He has a strong back-catalogue of Cheltenham form (fifth in 2017 Champion Bumper, sixth in Supreme Novices’ Hurdle last year) and could be the type to go under the radar a bit here.

Conclusion

Laurina could be head and shoulders above her male rivals if making the trip across the Irish Sea, but there may be better value – certainly at this stage – in looking further down the list. Western Ryder is tempting, but his tendency to race keenly tempers enthusiasm a little, while Summerville Boy should fare better now back at Cheltenham, but the 12/1 chance We Have A Dream – whose trainer/owner won this race in 2011 with a similar four-year-old – is preferred at the current odds. He was being spoken of as a potential Champion Hurdle horse when winning at Aintree last spring, and though his best performances have come on flatter tracks, he only missed last year’s Triumph due to illness. This test should prove ideal.

Recommended bet:

We Have A Dream to win Saturday's International Hurdle at 12/1
Timeform




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