The International continues at Cheltenham tomorrow, Saturday, 14 December, when the highlight is the £140,000 G2 Unibet International Hurdle (3.05pm). The contest is staged over just short of two miles and a furlong and is a leading trial for the Unibet Champion Hurdle at The Festival™ presented by Magners.
A field of nine, the joint-highest in the last 42 years, goes to post. Pentland Hills (Nicky Henderson/Nico de Boinville) is unbeaten in three outings over hurdles and landed the G1 JCB Triumph Hurdle at The Festival in March before going on to further G1 glory at Aintree the following month. He will be aiming to become the second JCB Triumph Hurdle scorer to go on success in the Unibet International Hurdle the following season after Detroit City won both races in 2006.
Henderson is the most successful trainer ever in the Unibet International Hurdle with five victories, including Brain Power in 2018. Tomorrow he also saddles G2 winner Call Me Lord (James Bowen).
Another G1 in tomorrow's line-up is Elixir De Nutz (Colin Tizzard/Harry Cobden). The Terry Warner-owned five-year-old won a novices' hurdle at The International in 2018 and went on to post a game victory in the G1 Unibet Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown Park in January, which was his final start of the 2018/19 campaign.
Colin Tizzard said: "Elixir De Nutz is in good form and he heads for the International Hurdle.
"He tweaked the back of his knee last year and we have given him plenty of time off to prepare him for a campaign for the second-half of the season.
"He went to Newbury recently for a gallop and worked well so he is ready to start.
"We're running here to tell us if he is a Champion Hurdle horse. He obviously won a G1 as a novice but this is another step up and will tell us a lot."
Owner Terry Warner has seen his familiar yellow and black colours carried to success in the Unibet International Hurdle by subsequent Champion Hurdle hero Rooster Booster (2002) and Detroit City (2006). In addition to Elixir De Nutz, he is also represented tomorrow by Gumball (Philip Hobbs/Richard Johnson), the neck runner-up in the G3 Unibet Greatwood Handicap Hurdle at The November Meeting, a race in which Monsieur Lecoq (Jane Williams/Lizzie Kelly) came home third.
Ch'tibello (Dan Skelton/Harry Skelton) landed the G3 Randox Health County Handicap Hurdle at The Festival last season, while Le Patriote (Dr Richard Newland/Aidan Coleman) recorded his biggest success in the G3 Pertemps Network Swinton Handicap Hurdle at Haydock Park in May.
Ballyandy (Nigel Twiston-Davies/Sam Twiston-Davies), the 2016 G1 Weatherby Champion Bumper victor, drops back in distance having seemingly not got home over three miles at Wetherby last time out.
Completing the line-up is Australian challenger Big Blue (Ciaron Maher and David Eustace).
The seven-year-old was a G1-placed in France when trained by Andre Fabre and has gone on to victory in the 2018 ATC St Leger at Randwick and the Galleywood Hurdle at Warrnambool since heading Down Under. Currently based in Lambourn, he has the Unibet Champion Hurdle as a long-term aim.
Unibet International Hurdle, Unibet odds:
7/4 Pentland Hills
4/1 Call Me Lord
6/1 Elixir De Nutz
12/1 Le Patriote, Monsieur Lecoq
25/1 Gumball, Ballyandy
50/1 Big Blue
Each-Way: 1/5 1-2-3
Day two of The International runs from 12.10pm, with the £25,000 JCB Triumph Hurdle Trial (10 runners, 2m 179y) getting proceedings underway.
The big handicap chase is the £130,000 G3 Caspian Caviar Gold Cup (1.55pm, 2m 4f 127y), which is now down to 15 runners following the defection of ante-post favourite Riders Onthe Storm this morning.
The other Graded contest is the £32,000 G2 Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle (2.30pm, eight runners, 2m 7f 213y).
Completing the action are the £25,000 Ryman Novices' Chase (12.45pm, seven runners, 2m 4f 127y), the £30,000 Cheltenham Club Handicap Chase (1.20pm, eight runners, 2m 62y) and the concluding £30,000 Park Mares' Handicap Hurdle (3.40pm, 17 runners, 2m 4f 56y).
The International gets underway today and the going is currently:
Good to Soft, Soft in places (Chase and Hurdle)
Good to Soft, Soft in places (Cross Country)
Simon Claisse, Clerk of the Course at Cheltenham, said today: "The rain has cleared overnight leaving us with a breezy looking day which should be mostly dry, although there may be the odd shower.
"We are on the New Course, which has not been used since the beginning of May and there is fresh ground the whole way around."