French stars lined up to raid The International at Cheltenham next month
High-profile French challengers 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, at the Home of Jump Racing.
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 over an extended two and a half miles.
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, the Grade One Grande Course de Haies d'Auteuil over three miles, one and a half furlongs at Auteuil on June 9.
The horse, who likes to make the running, finished third in the three-mile Grade One Grand Prix d'Automne at Auteuil on November 2, beaten a length and a quarter by the Nick Williams-trained Reve De Sivola.
Bertran de Balanda, who visited Cheltenham during The Open, 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. The course itself is very different and, although I think he will handle it, we can't be sure until we try.
"We are happy with the slight drop back in trip because it is his first time in England and they normally go a good pace.
"I think Gemix is as good as any of the other hurdlers around in France and I think he will be better on nicer ground. He showed very good form in June when he beat Solwhit, which proved he is a very good horse.
"Providing he runs well, we will be looking at the World Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival."
Cheltenham Racecourse is keen to encourage French runners to participate at the course and provided the British hurdles that Gemix schooled over recently at Maisons-Laffitte under regular rider David Cottin. These hurdles will be available to all trainers thinking of having runners at the course.
Seabreeze d'Ho is targeting the £130,000 Grade Two StanJames.com International Hurdle over two miles and a furlong, a leading trial for the Grade One Stan James Champion Hurdle at The Festival in March.
Christian Le Gaillard's charge was last seen finishing 10th of 13 when going beyond two and a half miles for the first time in the Grade Two Prix Leon Olry-Roederer at Auteuil on November 17.
The seven-year-old had only finished out of the first three once in seven previous starts over hurdles and 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, based in Naizin, Brittany, has 14 horses in training and the former apprentice continues to ride on the Flat.
He took over responsibility for Seabreeze d'Ho in 2010 after the horse was being rested following a leg injury and shares ownership.
Seabreeze d'Ho returned to racing in October, 2012 and his handler, who began training in 1985, revealed about his first British runner: "It was Seabreeze d'Ho's fourth hurdle race in quick succession last time and I think that reflected in his performance. It was in very testing ground and stretched his stamina to his maximum.
"He has come out of that race extremely well and is in flying form which is why we have decided to make the trip to Cheltenham.
"He has good form here in France and, whilst 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.
"He will also really appreciate the better ground he will encounter. James Reveley will school him before the race in England. We will most likely take the ferry from Cherbourg to Portsmouth and arrive a few days beforehand.
"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."