Horse Talk with Simon Jackson:
Top horse racing tips and the latest news.
NICKY Henderson has said is ‘really pleased’ with reigning champion Buveur D’Air who targets a consecutive hat-trick of victories in the Unibet Champion Hurdle on the first day of the 2019 Cheltenham Festival.
The JP McManus-owned gelding bids to become the sixth three-time winner of the two-mile hurdlers’ championship and the first since the Aidan O’Brien-trained and McManus-owned Istabraq completed the three-timer in 2000.
The winner of 16 of his 20 races under rules and just shy of £1 million in prize money, Buveur D’Air has won two of his three starts this season. He commenced with an impressive win in the Grade 1 Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle, before suffering a shock defeat to stablemate Verdana Blue in the Grade 1 Christmas Hurdle at Kempton Park on Boxing Day.
Buveur D’Air completed his racecourse preparations when landing a Listed race at Sandown in early February and has since pleased Henderson; who is also represented by Verdana Blue and Brain Power in this year’s Champion Hurdle which has attracted a field of 10 runners.
“This year’s Unibet Champion Hurdle is a better contest than last year,” Henderson said.
“I don’t think Buveur D’Air was at his best last year. He probably ran around 10lb below his rating in last year’s Champion Hurdle but still managed to win which was down more to his own toughness.
“This year, he has a couple of really talented mares to take on in Apple’s Jade and Laurina. He has to give them both 7lb and that is going to be tough.
Speaking last week, Henderson continued: “However, we are really pleased with him and Barry Geraghty rode him over the weekend (March 2nd) and was very happy with him, so if he is happy with him, I am happy with him.
“Verdana Blue did well to beat Buveur D’Air at Kempton, but that is unlikely to be repeated. The ground at Cheltenham will start on good to soft and that will be a real difference to the good ground at Kempton.
“A very sharp easy two miles around Kempton on fast ground will be a different ball game to Cheltenham. It will be hard for her to confirm that form, but we have enjoyed a brilliant season with her and she is definitely capable of being placed in the race.
“In terms of the standard of the British runners in the Champion Hurdle, Brain Power is probably second after Buveur D’Air. He was good at Cheltenham in the International and the better the ground, the better it will be for him.
“The International was not one of the strongest renewal, but it was one of the better British Champion Hurdle trials.
“Buveur D’Air is of course the standout but both Verdana Blue and Brain Power go there with a real chance of making the frame.”
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