RACING: French plan raid on Cheltenham's International meeting

THE French are raiding Cheltenham races over the weekend, looking to plunder some of the valuable prize money on offer at the International meeting.

High-profile racehorses Gemix and Seabreeze d'Ho intend to test their Cheltenham Festival credentials in two of the feature hurdle races on the second day of The International, Saturday, December 14.

Trainer Nicolas Bertran de Balanda is hoping Gemix can lay down an early marker for the Grade One Ladbrokes World Hurdle in March when the five-year-old lines up in the £40,000 Grade Two Osborne House Relkeel Hurdle.

Gemix announced himself as one of Europe's leading hurdlers with a commanding eight-length success over reigning Ladbrokes World Hurdle hero Solwhit in the French Champion Hurdle at Auteuil on June 9.

Bertran de Balanda, who visited Cheltenham during The Open meeting, reported: "Gemix is on course for the Relkeel Hurdle. He schooled over British-style hurdles for the first time at Maisons-Laffitte on Tuesday and went very well.

"He ran well at Auteuil at the start of the month, but struggled on the heavy ground towards the end of the race.

"I thought the ground at Cheltenham was absolutely perfect and it is much better than at Auteuil at this time of year – Gemix will love that.

"I think Gemix is as good as any of the other hurdlers around in France. Providing he runs well, we will be looking at the World Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival."

Seabreeze d'Ho is targeting the £130,000 Grade Two International Hurdle, a leading trial for the Grade One Stan James Champion Hurdle at The Festival in March.

Christian Le Gaillard's charge created a good impression when recording a pair of Listed handicap hurdle successes at Auteuil on October 19 and November 3 respectively.

He also enjoyed a productive campaign on the Flat this year, winning five of his eight starts.

Le Gaillard, who is based in Naizin, Brittany, has 14 horses in training. He said: "Seabreeze d'Ho is in flying form which is why we have decided to make the trip to Cheltenham.

"He has good form here in France and, while we hope he will run well, we are also coming for the experience as it will be our first time at Cheltenham and we are told that the atmosphere is amazing.

"I don't think that he will have much trouble adapting to the British-style hurdles, or the track. My gallops are hilly and in Brittany the racecourses are much more undulating than say in Paris. I imagine that they are the most like Cheltenham in France.

"I am already thinking about The Festival in March, but obviously I want things to go well here first and it will be a good test for him."

Meanwhile, Northumberland trainer George Charlton is hoping that Knockara Beau can gain a deserved first success at Cheltenham in the £45,000 Grade Three Majordomo Hospitality Handicap Chase (2.10), highlight of the first day of The International on Friday.

The ten-year-old has yet to score in 14 visits to the home of jump racing but has finished second four times, including when going down by two lengths to Alvarado in the Grade Three Murphy Group Handicap Chase at The Open on November 16.

Knockara Beau was sixth in the 2012 Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup, fourth in both the Pertemps Final in 2011 and the RSA Chase in 2010, and fifth in the Neptune Investment Management Novices' Hurdle at The Festival in 2009.

His fine record at Cheltenham also includes a third in the Grade Two Argento Chase in 2012 and a second in the Grade Two Rewards4Racing Cleeve Hurdle in 2011.

Charlton said: "Knockara Beau is set to run at Cheltenham on Friday. I was pleased with his second at The Open because it showed that he is in very good health, but I was also a little bit disappointed that he made one mistake four fences from home.

"It happened at the wrong time in the race and it knocked about six lengths out of him. He ran on well up the hill and would have probably been in front soon after the line.

"He has been at Cheltenham quite a few times without winning but we will keep chipping away with him.


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