Buveur D’Air, the Champion Hurdle winner in 2017 and 2018, left the best until last in the current season as he finally added an eighth Grade One success to his record with an emphatic success in the Punchestown Champion Hurdle on Friday evening.
Nicky Henderson’s eight-year-old opened the campaign in early December with an equally impressive defeat of Samcro in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle. Yet four subsequent runs had yielded only one minor success at long odds-on and he went to post on Friday as the 2-1 joint-favourite alongside Gordon Elliott’s outstanding mare, Apple’s Jade.
Supasundae, last year’s winner, and Melon, who was within a length of Buveur D’Air in the 2018 Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham, were also in the field but it was Petit Mouchoir, a 33-1 outsider, that made all the running until the home straight.
He was setting the race up for the travellers in behind, however, and Davy Russell, who took over on Buveur D’Air after Mark Walsh suffered an injury earlier in the afternoon, was going best of all.
He was soon in front and opened a decisive lead before crossing the line two-and-a-half lengths in front of Supasundae with Wicklow Brave, at 16-1, in third. Apple’s Jade, a beaten favourite at the Cheltenham and Aintree Festivals on her last two starts, was again disappointing as she could finish only fifth of seven.
“It’s great to see him finish the year back to his absolute best,” Henderson said. “He started the year in the Fighting Fifth and everyone thought he was going to be unbeatable, and so did I. Then we went and beat him [in the Christmas Hurdle] with Verdana Blue of our own, which was a bit of a shock, and then he went and fell in the Champion Hurdle, which knocked him sideways a bit.
“It was a proper race, which suits him. Davy was always going to suit the horse as he lets them get on with it. We can go to the summer now and look forward to next year. He’s the one that they all have to beat again.”
Despite Henderson’s confidence, the ante-post market rates Espoir D’Allen, who replaced Buveur D’Air as the champion hurdler, as the 5-1 favourite ahead of Klassical Dream on 6-1, a convincing winner of two-mile novice hurdles at both Cheltenham and Punchestown this spring. Buveur D’Air is an 8-1 chance and it is 16-1 bar three.
Reserve Tank completed a Grade One double for British stables with a hard-fought success over Sams Profile in the Champion Novice Hurdle over two-and-a-half miles.
City Island, the winner of the Ballymore Novice Hurdle at Cheltenham in March, set off as the warm favourite but was beaten before the last as Reserve Tank, the winner of the equivalent Grade One at Aintree, added another top-flight win to his record.
In addition to Walsh, whose mount Scoir Mear was brought down in the EMS Copiers Novice Handicap Chase, David Mullins and Rachael Blackmore were also stood down for the day after falls at Punchestown on Friday. Walsh was taken to hospital with a suspected fracture of his right tibia, while Blackmore, whose mount Ellie Mac fell at the second-last in the Glencarraig Lady Mares’ Handicap Chase, was also taken to hospital for observation. Mullins, who was reportedly sore after his fall, is thought to have suffered a shoulder injury.
Lingfield: 1.35 Narjes 2.05 Summer Flair 2.35 Strong Power 3.05 Charles Molson (nb) 3.35 Oloroso (nap) 4.10 Kachumba 4.45 Mutaraffa
Chepstow: 1.45 Mobham 2.15 Wedding Blue 2.45 Poet’s Magic 3.15 Plumette 3.50 Eye Of The Water 4.25 Major Valentine 5.00 Queen Of Paris
Musselburgh: 1.55 Lara Silvia 2.25 Amazing Grazing 2.55 Coolagh Forest 3.25 Everything For You 4.00 Arletta Star 4.35 Smugglers Creek
5.10 Frame Rate
Cheltenham: 5.05 Gustave Mahler 5.40 Coco Live 6.15 Alfstar 6.50 Hazel Hill 7.20 Theatre Territory 7.50 Vasco Du Mee 8.20 Risk A Fine
Newcastle: 5.50 Shareef Star 6.25 Khuzaam 6.55 Splash Of Verve 7.30 Moss Gill 8.00 Hyperfocus 8.30 Everkyllachy 9.00 Inspired Thought