Buveur D’Air out to join select band
Victory would elevate Buveur D’Air into the company of Hatton’s Grace, Sir Ken, Persian War, See You Then and Istabraq as a three-time winner of the Champion Hurdle.
But what had seemed rather likely after success over Samcro in December’s Fighting Fifth Hurdle, where he earned a career-best Rating Post Rating, now feels very much in the balance.
Market confidence was dented by a surprise short-head defeat to stablemate Verdana Blue in Kempton’s Christmas Hurdle, a first reverse since a third-placed finish to Altior in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham in 2016.
But it has been the sparkling form of Apple’s Jade and the decision to redirect her to the Champion Hurdle that has seen Barry Geraghty’s mount challenged, and in many places eclipsed, as favourite for the Unibet-backed contest in which he beat Melon by a neck last year.
A comfortable win over subsequent Grade 2 scorer Vision Des Flos and the softening of the Cheltenham ground both rate as positives, however, as Nicky Henderson, who trained See You Then to his three successes in the 1980s, seeks an eighth win in the race.
Henderson said: “Everything has gone smoothly with Buveur D’Air. His preparation at Sandown was great and while he got beaten by Verdana Blue at Kempton in the Christmas Hurdle, this is a completely different ball game to two miles around there on goodish ground.
“You’d be a bit wild not to expect the places to be reversed. He’s in very good form and I’m very happy with where he is – I’m confident he’s coming in a better horse than he was last year.”
Verdana’s Blue’s victory over Buveur D’Air catapulted her into Champion Hurdle contention, but Henderson considers her dependent on the ground and her odds have lengthened as the rain has fallen at Cheltenham.
Defeat to Gumball on the all-weather at Kempton a fortnight ago came at odds-on, but the booking of Davy Russell – who was last year’s leading jockey at the festival, where he has had a winner in each of the last 13 years – is certainly a positive.
Nico de Boinville, aboard Verdana Blue in the Christmas Hurdle, is instead on Brain Power, who made a successful switch back from chasing when winning the International Hurdle at Cheltenham in December.
Now eight, that was only his second start over hurdles since disappointing in Buveur D’Air’s first Champion Hurdle win two years ago.
Henderson said: “I’ve always said Brain Power is very talented and he won the International. He comes here with a reasonable each-way chance, while Verdana Blue is ground-dependent and it’s obviously going to go against her.”