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 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.
Henderson was keen to credit owner Michael Buckley, saying: “It was totally his idea to go hurdling and full credit to him. I said this morning that was a good call and as the race panned out, it did seem a good call.
“I would have given him one more chance over fences in cheekpieces in the Peterborough Chase.
“He has always had stacks of ability. He has always looked like a chaser, but he has never found that easy and he has never actually jumped hurdles that well.
“It’s not that he’s ungenuine, he just doesn’t concentrate on what is in front of him the whole time.”
Brain Power is a general 25-1 shot for the Champion Hurdle, for which his stablemate Buveur D’Air is the odds-on favourite.
Henderson added: “We might take Brain Power to Haydock (Champion Hurdle Trial). I’d be pretty sure he will be running in the Champion Hurdle.”
The Evan Williams-trained Silver Streak finished strongly to grab the runner-up spot ahead of 4-1 favourite Western Ryder in third.
Williams said: “He has run well, but they didn’t go fast enough for him. He wants a fast-run race but the winner is a good horse. Don’t worry about the ground as he was fine on that.
“He will not win a Champion Hurdle but he might get placed in one, and that’s where we should be going.”
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.