Cheltenham International Meeting Betting Tips - 13th & 14th December 2019

The National Hunt season may annually build to a climax at the big springtime festivals, but it’s a long and winding road which leads to Cheltenham in March. A road which features no shortage of spectacular stopping off points – a statement which is particularly true over the festive period. The Kempton Christmas Cracker of the King George VI Chase of course takes centre stage in December, but is far from the only wintertime highlight on offer.

Earlier in that month, and beginning just prior to the point at which the festive season really begins to hit full stride, we have this excellent two-day offering from the home of the National Hunt game. With 14 quality contests on offer, including key trials for a number of the Cheltenham Festival’s biggest races, in addition top handicapping action, this is another meeting not to be missed for fans of the jumping game.

 

About the International Meeting

The March Festival and November Meeting are the key events that everyone thinks of when the name of Cheltenham Racecourse is mentioned, but it’s a world-class venue that hosts top-notch racing at other times during the year too. One of these is the International Meeting, which usually takes place in December and comes before the New Year’s Day meeting and after the November Meeting, meaning that the course is never too far away from playing host to some of the National Hunt’s most exciting racing.

Cheltenham is thought of my many as the home of jump racing, so it’s no major surprise that many of the biggest names in the sport head to the Gloucestershire venue whenever it opens its doors. That is even more the case during the International Meeting for the simple reason that its proximity to Christmas means that everyone tends to be in a festive mood, ready to gobble down a mince pie and swig from a cup of mulled wine, all whilst watching some of the best horses around demonstrate their skills as the jump racing season starts to hit its stride.

The Two Days of Racing

Being a meeting rather than a one-off day, there are two days of racing for you to sink your teeth into. The first day sees the Crystal Cup European Cross Country Challenge take centre stage as the atmosphere is one of people enjoying a day out with friends or work colleagues, whilst Day Two welcomes horses from all around the world for the International Hurdle.

It’s normal for the International Meeting’s second day to fall on the Saturday in the middle of December, meaning that everyone in attendance knows they’re likely to soon be heading into break from work for a couple of weeks and are therefore in an excitable mood. There’s also the impending doom of spending time with family, though, so they might also be determined to enjoy the day in every sense possible.

Day One on Friday

Whilst the Crystal Cup European Cross Country Challenge might well be what lots of the people are turning up to watch play out, that doesn’t mean that the other races aren’t worth having a look at. With seven races in total, you’re sure to find something that tickles your fancy if you’re paying attention.

Day Two on Saturday

The office Christmas party atmosphere of Day One is replaced by one of general festiveness when Day Two rolls around. There’s no doubt that the main even is the International Hurdle, around which the entire meeting is built. Yet don’t ignore the other races that are primed for your enjoyment during an excellent day of racing.

International Meeting Race List

Here’s a look at the racing that takes place across both days:

RacePrize MoneyAgesObstacles
Day One - International Friday
EBF 'National Hunt' Novices' Hurdle £15,000 4-6 Years Old 8 hurdles
Novices’ Chase £25,000 4 Years Old + 21 fences
Catesby Handicap Hurdle £16,400 3 Years Old + 8 hurdles
Mares’ Handicap Chase £16,400 4 Year Old + Mares 17 fences
BetVictor Handicap Chase £60,000 4 Years Old + 21 fences
Cross Country Handicap Chase £35,000 5 Years Old + 32 fences
Citipost Handicap Hurdle £22,000 4 Years Old + 12 hurdles
Day Two – International Saturday
JCB Triumph Trial Hurdle  £25,000 3 Years Old 8 hurdles
Ryman Novices’ Chase £25,000 4 Years Old + 17 fences
Cheltenham Club Handicap Chase £30,000 4 Years Old + 14 fences
Caspian Caviar Gold Cup £130,000 4 Years Old + 17 fences
Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle £32,000 4 Years Old + 12 hurdles
International Hurdle £140,000 4 Years Old + 8 hurdles
Mares’ Handicap Hurdle £30,000 4 Year Old + Fillies & Mares 10 hurdles

The Main Races in Detail

It’s a meeting filled with excitement and entertainment, so you’ll be loath to take your eyes off the racing for even a moment. The The JCB Triumph Hurdle, for example, is a Novices' Championship Hurdle Series qualifying race, meaning you can learn a lot about the horses likely to take part in the series by watching it.

We could tell you a little something about all of the races on the list, but the truth is that there are five contests that are worthy of special mention, so we’ll concentrate on them.

International Hurdle

When a meeting is named in honour of a particular race then that one really does seem like the best place to start. This Grade 2 race is open to horses aged four and over with a weight of eleven stone and is run left-handed on the Cheltenham New Course. It’s around two miles, seven furlongs and one hundred and seventy-nine yards in length, with eight hurdles to be negotiated during the running.

Established as the Cheltenham Trial Hurdle in 1963, it became the Bula Hurdle in 1977 as a nod to Bula, a horse that had won the Champion Hurdle twice and had been victorious in this race five years earlier. In 1978, 1979 and 1980 Bird’s Nest won the race on three successive occasions, which was a feat matched in the 1990s by Relkeel.

The reason the International Hurdle is seen as such an important race is that it’s one of the legs of the so-called ‘Road To Cheltenham’, which culminates in the Champion Hurdle during the Festival. The Road to Cheltenham was created by Racing For Change, which is an arm of the British Horseracing Authority tasked with trying to reappraise the way that racing events get promoted. The six races are as follows:

  • Elite Hurdle (Wincanton)
  • Greatwood Hurdle (Cheltenham)
  • Morgiana Hurdle (Punchestown)
  • Fighting Fifth Hurdle (Newcastle)
  • International Hurdle (Cheltenham)
  • Champion Hurdle Trial (Haydock Park)

Bird’s Nest, Relkeel and The New One have all won the race on three occasions, whilst Richard Johnson is the race’s most successful jockey. Rooster Booster is a good example of a horse that has won the International Hurdle and then gone on to be successful in the Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.

The Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase

The Glenfarclas Cross Country Handicap Steeple Chase is one of the races worth telling you about for the simple reason that it is the culmination of the Crystal Cup European Cross Country Challenge. That is an eleven race series that takes place across Europe, asking jumpers to take on fences, hedges, banks and ditches as they aim to prove that they are amongst the best cross country runners on the continent.

Taking place on the Cross Country Course at Cheltenham and lasting for three miles, six furlongs and thirty-seven yards, there are a remarkable thirty-two obstacles to be jumped before horses hit the run-in. The race itself is open to horses aged five and over, whilst the Challenge as a whole is decided on a points basis. First place gets six points, with each place down to sixth getting one less point per place. There are also bonus points available to horses that have travelled from overseas. Here’s the list of races:

  • Grand Cross de Pau Reverdy (Pau, France)
  • Cross Country Chase (Cheltenham, England)
  • Grand Steeple-Chase Cross Country de Fontainebleau (Fontainebleau Racecourse, France)
  • Anjou-Loire Challenge (Le Lion-d’Angers, France)
  • Crystal Cup Partynice Wrocław (Wroclaw, Poland)
  • Grand Steeple-Chase des Flandres (Waregem, Belgium)
  • Grand Cross de Craon (Craon, France)
  • Gran Premio Merano (Merano, Italy)
  • Velká pardubická (Pardubice, Czech Republic)
  • Grand Steeple Chase-Cross-Country de Compiègne (Compiègne, France)
  • Cross Country Handicap Chase (Cheltenham, England)

CF Roberts 25 Years of Sponsorship Handicap Chase

A race that has been run under numerous different titles of the years, the CF Roberts 25 Years of Sponsorship Handicap Chase is open to horses aged four and over and is run left-handed on the New Course. The distance is three miles and two furlongs and the race was inaugurated in 2003, gaining Grade 3 status eight years later.

No horse has won the race more than once, but it is a race worth watching if you want some clues about the Grand National the following year. The likes of Monbeg Dude and Shakalakaboomboom have gone on to compete in the Aintree race, but Mon Mome won this race in 2008 before winning the National in 2009.

Caspian Caviar Gold Cup

Also known as the December Gold Cup, it’s little wonder this race features on the list of races that are worth watching considering it bears the name of one of the racecourse’s most famous trophies. It’s not to be mixed up with the Gold Cup run during the Festival, of course, but it offers a similar level of excitement for those watching.

Run left-handed over two miles, four furlongs and one hundred and twenty-seven yards, it’s a handicap race that means the handicapper assigns the weight to be carried to the various participants. The race is open to horses aged four and over, with seventeen fences that need to be jumped before horses hit the final straight.

First run in 1963, it was sponsored by Massey Ferguson and therefore given the name of the Massey Ferguson Gold Cup. After 1980 it enjoyed numerous different sponsors, always maintaining its registered name of the December Gold Cup. In 2005 it was briefly run as the Robin Cook Memorial Gold Cup in honour of the former Foreign Secretary who was a keen racing lover and had died earlier that year.

Another interesting name was given to it in 2010 when it was bestowed with the title of the Vote A P Gold Cup, aimed at getting people to vote for Tony McCoy in the BBC Sports Personality Of The Year competition. It became known as the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup in 2014 when Caspian Caviar took over sponsorship duties and is often run by horses that had previously taken part in the Festival’s Gold Cup.

Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle

The final race worth giving you some information about is the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle. Run left-handed on the New Course over a distance of two miles, seven furlongs and two hundred and thirteen yards, the race features twelve hurdles. As the name suggests, it’s open to novice hurdlers that are aged four and over.

The race was originally run over two mile and four and a half furlongs, but it was extended to its current distance in 1994. That was also when it was upgraded to be given Grade 2 status. Though it is officially known as the Bristol Novices’ Hurdle, the race has been sponsored by Albert Bartlett, the vegetable growing company, since 2007 and is now perhaps best known by its sponsored moniker.

Because it’s a race for novices it has never been won by the same horse more than once. A lot of the best-known jump jockeys have won the race, with Tony McCoy and Carl Llewellyn leading the pack with three wins apiece. Nigel Twiston-Davies is the race’s most successful trainer having won it four times to date.

This is another race that is worth watching for clues about other big jump races. Remittance Man, for example, won this in 1989 and then went on to win the likes of the Arkle Challenge Trophy and the Queen Mother Champion Chase. Likewise both Bindaree and Comply or Die won this before going on to win the Grand National at Aintree, whilst Coneygree won this in 2012 and then the Cheltenham Gold Cup three years later.