London – Buveur D’Air can join the greats by defending his crown in the Unibet Champion Hurdle on the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival on Tuesday.
Hardy Eustace was the last to retain the title back in 2005 and while others have tried since then, none have been successful. Buveur D’Air can buck that trend with another tip-top performance. It is hard to believe that halfway through last season he was novice chasing with the Arkle Trophy his likely objective in 2017.
In a shrewd move, trainer Nicky Henderson and owner JP McManus opted to put him back over hurdles. It paid off in droves with Buveur D’Air stamping his authority in this race and on the division as a whole. It has been a similar story this term. Everything has gone to plan and the seven-year-old arrives at Prestbury Park on the back of three victories, in the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle, Kempton’s Christmas Hurdle and the Contenders Hurdle at Sandown.
Buveur D’Air may not be a betting proposition, especially with 2015 scorer Faugheen not having recaptured his best form, but he is impossible to oppose in his quest to register back-to-back victories. Henderson can also take the honours in the Ultima Handicap Chase with Gold Present, who has won both his starts this season in likeable fashion.
Admittedly he has paid the price for his successes at Newbury and Ascot with a 7kg hike which has resulted in him being burdened with top weight. However, he looks up to the task.
Another hotpot who can live up to expectations is Footpad in the Racing Post Arkle Trophy. Willie Mullins’ six-year-old was no slouch over smaller obstacles and has taken the transition to fences in his stride, with a perfect record of three out of three.He defeated Petit Mouchoir on merit in the Irish Arkle at Leopardstown last month and can confirm the form with the soft ground more in his favour. Saint Calvados could prove a tough rival, but Footpad can have the edge.
Getabird can strike for the Mullins team in the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle that brings the curtain up on the four-day bonanza. The five-year-old has been extremely lightly-raced but when he has graced the track, he has been exceptional. His two wins this season, both at Punchestown, suggest he could be something special.
Apple’s Jade is the undoubted class act in the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle as she bids to repeat last year’s success. Gordon Elliott’s star performer has been as good as ever this season. She got the better of subsequent Irish Champion Hurdle winner Supasundae in Leopardstown’s Christmas Hurdle over 4800m and is seen as one of the bankers of the week.
Anthony Honeyball’s Ms Parfois is fancied to outstay the opposition in the National Hunt Challenge Cup Amateur Riders’ Novice Chase, while the Nick Williams-trained Le Rocher could run a big race at a big price in the Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase. – Press Association
CHELTENHAM SELECTIONS: Race 1 – Getabird, Race 2 – Footpad, Race 3 – GOLD PRESENT (NAP), Race 4 – Buveur D’Air, Race 5 – Apple’s Jade, Race 6 – Ms Parfois, Race 7 – Le Rocher.