Brain Power proves too smart for International Hurdle rivals

Sat 15 Dec 2018

Watch a full replay of the Unibet International Hurdle at Cheltenham on Saturday plus Stewart Machin's interviews with Nicky Henderson and Nico de Boinville.

Nicky Henderson’s decision to switch Brain Power back from fences paid off as he claimed victory in the Unibet International Hurdle at Cheltenham.

The Seven Barrows maestro made a similar call with subsequent dual Champion Hurdle hero Buveur D’Air a couple of seasons ago and while it would fanciful to suggest Brain Power can go on to scale those heights, he made a fine start to his second stint hurdling in this prestigious contest.

Brain Power was second in the Arkle Trophy here in March, but fell on his final outing of the campaign at Aintree.

And having finished well beaten on his reappearance in the Shloer Chase at Cheltenham last month, he reverted to the smaller obstacles for what looked a sub-standard renewal of this Grade Two event.

Nico de Boinville positioned the 7-1 shot in midfield for much of two-mile-one-furlong journey, giving him plenty of light at his hurdles out wide.

The New One – bidding for a fourth victory in the race – raced enthusiastically on the front end in the first-time visor – but faded quickly from the home turn and was pulled up by Sam Twiston-Davies before the final flight.

The popular veteran, winner of 20 of his 40 races and more than £1 million in prize money, was subsequently retired.

Vision Des Flos led the field into the home straight, but the strong-travelling Brain Power soon took over and was good value for the eventual winning margin of a length and three-quarters.

Silver Streak finished strongly to grab the runner-up spot ahead of 4-1 favourite Western Ryder in third.

"I think Brain Power enjoyed the fact that we brought him back over hurdles, for which I take absolutely no credit at all," Henderson told Racing UK.

"We have been trying to make him into a chaser and he was second in an Arkle. We did a back operation in the summer because his technique wasn't quite right and he had an issue with a kissing spine.

"We have given him a couple of runs and he hadn't been convincing, but I thought he was better. Michael (Buckley) said that he wanted to go back over hurdles - he was dead set on coming here and he was dead right.

"Michael and I have been together for a long time - we have been great mates and we have had some great horses - so I am chuffed to bits for him. It was his call and I said this morning that, whatever happens, it was a good call because it was a winnable race.

"I think he will staying over hurdles now and he stays two and a half miles, which does open things up."

Nico de Boinville said: "We went quick over the first couple and then steadied it up going down the hill, which seemed to suit Brain Power.

"He came hard on the bridle and I almost got there too soon turning in, but he was travelling so well that I thought that I would let him enjoy himself.

"He gave me a great feel today and I think that we will keep him over hurdles now. We have found his groove again and it was good to get his confidence back after he slightly lost his way over fences. All credit to Michael Buckley and the guv'nor for doing it."

Michael Buckley said: "It was like watching Brain Power two years ago, when he won at Ascot, and I think he is just not as happy over fences. He looked like a happy horse.

"I think he has a better chance in the Champion Hurdle than any of the chases at The Festival. I am thrilled to bits - this horse is one of Nicky's three best work horses at home, up there with Buveur D'Air and Altior.

"It's hard work for a sentimental, emotional enthusiast like me, going to the races constantly and being disappointed. It has been a really happy day."

The big disappointment of the race was last season’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle winner Summerville Boy.

Tom George’s charge was bidding to bounce back from a below-par comeback effort in the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle a fortnight ago, but trailed home last of seven finishers.

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