The International – History of the International Hurdle

The International Hurdle, run over two miles and a furlong, is one of the most valuable hurdle races of the season.

The contest is part of ‘The Road To Cheltenham’, a series of four races that also includes the Grade 1 Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle in November and The Grade 2 Champion Hurdle Trial at Haydock Park in January ahead of the Grade 1 Champion Hurdle at The Cheltenham Festival.

The International Hurdle was run as the Cheltenham Trial Hurdle from 1963 until 1977 when the name was changed to the Bula Hurdle, after the top-class Cheltenham winner.

Scottish Memories won the initial running in 1963, while the following two renewals went to winners of the Stan James Champion Hurdle, Magic Court and Salmon Spray. Fulke Walwyn saddled the Willie Robinson-ridden Sempervivum to take the 1966 event. Earlier that year, the eight-year-old had finished the runner-up to Salmon Spray in the Champion Hurdle.

Pendil was another high-class performer to win the International Hurdle. He was successful in 1970 for trainer Fred Winter and went to even greater heights over fences, capturing the feature chase at this meeting, the December Gold Cup, three years later.

Bula, the racehorse after whom this prestigious event was named for many years, was another success for Winter, prevailing in 1972 by one and a half lengths from the Peter Bailey-trained Canasta Lad, who had himself won the 1971 contest. The great Bula, who was ridden by Paul Kelleway, won the Champion Hurdle in 1971 and 1972. Bula’s owner Captain Bill Edwards-Heathcote maintained his Cheltenham links and experienced success with Village King in the 2002 Golden Miller Handicap Chase. He died aged 93 in November, 2010.

Fred Rimell trained Comedy Of Errors to win the International Hurdle two years running in 1973 and 1974. Comedy Of Errors was also a dual Champion Hurdle winner (1973 and 1975). Bill Smith rode the gelding to three of those four successes.

The great hurdler Bird’s Nest was the first horse to win the International Hurdle three times, being successful in 1977, 1978 and 1980. Bob Turnell saddled Bird’s Nest to the first two of his successes, with son Andy taking the reins. Andy Turnell went on to complete the three-timer in the saddle and was also the trainer in 1980, following his father’s death.

The other three-time winner was Relkeel, who gained successive victories in the International Hurdle  in 1997 and 1998 for the late David Nicholson. The Relkino gelding went on to complete his hat-trick in 1999, when under the care of Nicholson’s former assistant Alan King, and now has a race named after him on the Saturday of the International.

The Nicky Henderson-trained Geos won the International Hurdle in 2000, when beating Barton by six lengths. He was subsequently successful in Kempton’s Christmas Hurdle later in the same month and finished fourth to Hors La Loi III in the 2002 Champion Hurdle. Geos filled the same position in the 2003 Queen Mother Champion Chase at The Festival, having three months earlier finished a creditable two-length third to the Philip Hobbs-trained Rooster Booster in the 2002 International Hurdle.

Rooster Booster also lined up at the 2003 Cheltenham Festival, and took the hurdling crown, the Champion Hurdle. His jockey, Richard Johnson, is the most successful rider in the International Hurdle with six successes, having also partnered Relkeel to victory in 1999 and 1997, Detroit City in 2006, Menorah in 2010 and The New One in 2016. Jamie Osborne and Andy Turnell, now trainers, both enjoyed three victories in the race. Rooster Booster returned to Prestbury Park for the next two renewals of the International Hurdle, running a close fifth behind the Paul Nicholls-trained Rigmarole in 2003 and fourth to Back In Front a year later.

Edward O’Grady’s Back In Front – the second Irish-trained winner of the race after the Jim Bolger-trained Condor Pan in 1988 – was a four-length winner in 2004 under Davy Russell, from subsequent three-time Ladbrokes World Hurdle winner Inglis Drever.

Harchibald, runner-up in the 2005 Champion Hurdle, made it two winners in two years for the Irish with a classy performance in 2005. Noel Meade’s star hurdler travelled brilliantly under Paul Carberry, and despite finding trouble approaching the last flight, picked up in tremendous style to be the decisive winner from Intersky Falcon.

Detroit City was the victorious horse in 2006, coming home a length in front of the 2004 and 2005 Champion Hurdle victor Hardy Eustace. Something of a Cheltenham specialist, having also won the Triumph Hurdle and the Greatwood Hurdle at the course in 2006, the Philip Hobbs-trained gelding disappointed when sixth in the 2007 Champion Hurdle after being sent off the 6/4 favourite.

The International Hurdle proved a great guide to the Champion Hurdle in 2007. The David Pipe-trained Osana, in receipt of 4lb, prevailed by eight lengths from Katchit in the December contest. The pair re-opposed in the Champion Hurdle in March, 2008, when Katchit got the better of his conqueror by a length.

In 2008, waterlogging prevented the International Hurdle from taking place at Cheltenham, but the race was re-scheduled at Ascot the following weekend. Binocular, who had finished runner-up in the 2008 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at The Festival, prevailed by four and a half lengths from Celestial Halo, who had taken the previous season’s Triumph Hurdle. Chomba Womba finished third with the 2008 Champion Hurdle victor Katchit fourth and Crack Away Jack sixth.

Binocular went straight to the Champion Hurdle, where he started the 6/4 favourite and finished a close third behind stablemate Punjabi. Celestial Halo took second in the Champion Hurdle with Crack Away Jack fourth.

Celestial Halo also filled the runner-up spot in 2009, coming home two and a quarter lengths behind the victorious Khyber Kim. The winner had already triumphed in the Greatwood Hurdle at The Open (now the November Meeting) the previous month and returned to Cheltenham in March to take second behind Binocular in the Champion Hurdle at The Festival before ending his season with a deserved Grade One success in the Aintree Hurdle.

Nicky Henderson added to his win with Geos (2000) and Binocular (2008), with Grandouet (2011), My Tent Or Yours (2017), Brain Power (2018), and Call Me Lord (2019) – making him the most successful trainer for the International Hurdle.

Paul Nicholls trained winners Zarkandar (2012) and Old Guard (2015), while Nigel Twiston-Davies saw The New One (pictured top) equal the record for most successful horse with three wins – in 2013, 2014, and 2016. (The other two horses with three wins are Birds Nest – 1977, 1978, 1980; and Relkeel – 1997, 1998, 1999.)

Photo: The New One courtesy of Ian Yates


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