Call to reroute Buveur reaps rich dividends

The brave decision to forego a most-promising novice chasing season yielded rich dividend when Buveur D’Air ran out an impressive winner of the Stan James Champion Hurdle in front of a crowd of 66,019 on day one of the 2017 Cheltenham Festival.
Call to reroute Buveur reaps rich dividends

In the numbers game, this was also a landmark success for connections, as it gave his trainer, Nicky Henderson, a record sixth success in the race, owner JP McManus his 50th winner at the festival, and jockey Noel Fehily his second win in the race, and 99th of the season.

Buveur D’Air looked well held when third behind stable-companion and subsequent Arkle winner Altior in last season’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, but, following two wins over fences in the early part of this season, Henderson expressed the feeling that the horse had unfinished business over hurdles.

On his first run back over the smaller obstacles, he had a straight-forward task, and obliged accordingly.

A huge step forward was required to win the Champion Hurdle and, in light of support for Yanworth, who carries the same colours, he was quite easy to back.

But, bar a mistake four out, the race could hardly have gone better and when Fehily asked him to go and win his race, his mount responded.

In command before the last, he strode to a clear-cut victory over stable-companion My Tent Or Yours, who was finishing second in the race for the third time, and fourth time at the festival.

Henry De Bromhead’s Petit Mouchoir was best of the Irish, finishing a fine third, one place ahead of Footpad, while favourite Yanworth was distinctly sub-par, in seventh.

Henderson, who won the race three times with See You Then, and with Punjabi and the McManus-owned Binocular, admitted doubts about the switch back to hurdling: “The horse Buveur D’Air beat very easily first time out at Haydock over fences (Cloudy Dream) was second to Altior in the Arkle and I thought ‘Blimey, that’s good chasing form.’ I wondered had I got it wrong.

“But, we felt it was the right thing to do and it has worked on the day. Noel has given him a beautiful ride. Well done him.

“You feel sorry for My Tent Or Yours. It’s wonderful — we have won the Champion Hurdle — but that is now three Champion Hurdles he has been second in as well as a Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.

"What else can you say about a horse who has done that again and again? He has been sensational. But the youngster has got home, and that is great.”

McManus, already the leading owner in the race’s history, having won three times with Istabraq, and once with Binocular and Jezki, praised Henderson’s brave decision to return to hurdling.

“Nicky insisted he went back to hurdling, and, in the end, I let him have his way,” he admitted.

“Buveur D’Air was reading the script and I also had an eye on My Tent Or Yours in behind. I was in a pretty comfortable position jumping the second-last.

“It was great to see My Tent Or Yours finishing second for a fourth time here. Nicky said not to forget about My Tent Or Yours, that he would not disgrace himself.

“In fairness to poor old Yanworth, he got very warm before the race and maybe ran his race beforehand.”

Jockey Fehily, whose previous success in the race came aboard the Paul Nicholls-trained Rock On Ruby, in 2012, said: “To win a Champion Hurdle is fantastic and to win it again, you appreciate it more the second time around. Fair play to Nicky Henderson, this is a great training performance.

“He had a couple of runs over fences earlier in the season, and that’s where you’d worry, that maybe he’d jump too big and wouldn’t be slick enough, but he was brilliant.

“He missed four out, which was probably my own fault, as I rushed him a bit. It’s a hurdle you don’t want to miss because you want to be getting a breather in at the top of the hill, but he came back on the bridle quickly after making the mistake.

“I was taking a pull coming down the hill, thinking it was going to take a fair one to beat me now. I knew he’d stay and, once I was over two out, I wasn’t afraid to send him on.

“It doesn’t matter to me whether it was a vintage Champion Hurdle or not. Buveur D’Air is a class animal and I won a Grade One at Aintree on him last year. He has been a very good horse to me and I love him to bits.”

Added the 41-year-old Cork native: “When you ride good horses, it makes you feel like you want to go on forever. Obviously, you don’t, and I’ve got more festivals behind me than in front of me, but I enjoyed that win anyway.

“That’s 99 winners for the season, and hopefully I’ll get the 100 up before the week’s out.”

Winning owner McManus, who admitted there were tougher times along the way to his milestone victory, remains hungry for further success.

“I never thought about reaching 50 winners — it is just a number,” he said. “Fifty has gone now and we are looking for 51.

“I have many favourites. The first one was great as I had a couple of disappointments before that. Jack Of Trumps in ‘78 was odds-on for the four-miler and fell or unseated on the final circuit. The following year, we had a short-priced one and the same happened to him.

“In ‘82, Mister Donovan won the Neptune and I always said had he not won I would not have had the others. We then had a quiet time, just having a few runners through the 80s.

“In 1991, Danny Connors won with Jonjo (O’Neill), then we had a double in ‘94, before the years with Istabraq winning the Champion Hurdle — they were marvellous years.

“The first year was very sentimental because we had lost John Durkan, who found Istabraq for us. It was filled with emotion, that day.

“Then we had some marvellous times with AP (McCoy): Binocular in 2010, Synchronised in 2012 and Uxizandre two years ago. Every winner you have at Cheltenham is a magic moment.”

Along with Altior’s win in the Arkle, Buveur D’Air’s victory was another huge boost for the form of last season’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.

Connections of Min, runner-up to Altior in 2016, can wonder what might have been in 2017, but can connections of fourth-placed Tombstone dare to dream of festival success this afternoon?

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