A change of direction proved no barrier to success for Call Me Lord as he toughed out victory in the Unibet International Hurdle.
Nicky Henderson had kept his charge exclusively to right-handed tracks since his arrival from France two and a half years ago, with his nine previous outings in Britain yielding three victories and a string of placed efforts in good company.
Having finished a close second behind If The Cap Fits on his reappearance in last month’s Coral Hurdle at Ascot, Call Me Lord was dropped in distance and switched left-handed for this Grade Two contest – and got the job done in fine style in the hands of James Bowen.
The well-backed 2-1 favourite travelled powerfully for much of the two-mile-one-furlong contest and managed to navigate his way out of a pocket rounding the home turn to throw down his challenge.
Ballyandy came at him hard racing up the hill, but Call Me Lord had enough in hand to prevail by a neck.
Henderson said: “There was a reason for not going left-handed early on as everything he did at home was right-handed. We tried him left-handed once and he was in the car park, but he hasn’t been doing that this year and that’s why we thought ‘let’s give it another go’.
“Well done to James (Bowen). I feel so sorry for Daryl (Jacob) as he has broken his hand, but hopefully he will be back very soon as he is an integral part of the (Simon) Munir and (Isaac) Souede team.”
Call Me Lord was cut to around 14-1 for a Champion Hurdle that is very much upfor grabs following the sad loss of last year’s hero Espoir D’Allen and the recent injury suffered by Henderson’s dual winner Buveur D’Air.
The Seven Barrows handler still has a strong hand, however, with Call Me Lord joined on the list of possible candidates by stablemates Fusil Raffles, Epatante and Pentland Hills.
The latter – winner of last season’s Triumph Hurdle – weakened into fifth in the International after travelling keenly for a long way, but his trainer is not giving up on him yet.
“Call Me Lord gets two and a half (miles) well. What about a new Ryanair Hurdle?” Henderson joked.
“I would not be disappointed with Pentland Hills today as he run a good race. For me, until after the last hurdle, he ran through the race like the best horse in the race. He has got burly and he will come on a lot for that.
“I’m hoping the Christmas Hurdle will be up Fusil Raffles’ street and if it is good ground there is also Verdana Blue for that and Epatante – we could run the three.
“We have lost our number one gun (Buveur D’Air), but it is nice to have a few back-ups. They’re better than back-ups, in fairness.
“It’s a mixed division this year, so there are a lot of opportunities for someone to burst through and Call Me Lord has today.
“For once, it was worth running two.”
Nigel Twiston-Davies was delighted with the performance of the runner-up Ballyandy.
He said: “It was a very good effort and perhaps with a clearer run he might have won, but there you go.
“Sam (Twiston-Davies) said we were stupid running in this race after going three miles last time. Maybe we should go two and a half, but there aren’t many championship races over that trip.
“He is a lovely horse and the Champion Hurdle Trial at Haydock next month would look a really good race for him.”
Last season’s County Hurdle hero Ch’tibello was best of the rest in third.