Buveur D’Air provides timely reminder of his abilities as Champion Hurdle looms into view

Can Buveur D'Air reclaim his crown at Cheltenham?

Credit: PA

Beware the dethroned king. On the day the entries for the Champion Hurdle were revealed, the almost forgotten 2018 winner Buveur D’Air gave a timely reminder that he is still around and lurking with intent.

His trainer Nicky Henderson, responsible for six of the 27 entries including last year’s winner Epatante for the Unibet-sponsored feature on 16 March could not hide his delight at what he had seen after Buveur D’Air had a serious workout under Nico de Boinville.

“It was like he had never been away,” said the champion trainer, looking for his ninth Champion Hurdle win and ready to revise plans for Buveur D’Air’s return earlier than expected.

“It was fabulous, just like his old self with his hurdling just the same, in out and gone. He was unbelievable,” added Henderson.

There was no Newbury-like stretching of the legs on a special gallops morning as Buveur D’Air had two stablemates take him a full two miles.

“He went a mile over hurdles, jumping seven, and then a mile gallop with one horse leading him over hurdles, before another took over for the gallop,” confirmed Henderson.

The incredulity in Henderson’s voice was as much about what the 10-year-old had been through since an horrific injury in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle in November 2019.

“They had to take a third of his hoof off. It was an appalling mess, full of splinters from the hurdle and coming back then looked stupid. Everyone at Martinstown (the home of his owner JP McManus) did a wonderful job after he had the operation over here. It takes a tough horse to get through what he has been through.”

A legacy of the injury is that his sole is slightly collapsed, although the hoof has grown back well, and he only works on grass.

Until Wednesday’s workout only Hannah Ryan had ridden Buveur D’Air, taking him off on his own in the mornings as he built up to a planned return in the Virgin Bet Contenders Hurdle at Sandown on February 6.

Henderson is now thinking about the Unibet Champion Hurdle Trial two weeks earlier on January 23, while Epatante goes straight to Cheltenham in defence of her title.

Meanwhile, amateur riders have been dealt a big blow ahead of the hunter chase season which starts at Ludlow next Wednesday.

Racing’s governing body banned them from riding from Saturday to show racing remains an elite sport under the government guidelines that allows racing to continue in the lockdown.

Professional and conditional jockeys will have to ride in these races, with the weights reduced accordingly, while the amateur riders’ races, including the Foxhunters, at the Cheltenham Festival are put in doubt, although the pandemic picture could change.

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