Nicky Henderson has every faith in Buveur D’Air as the Seven Barrows trainer bids to win the Unibet Champion Hurdle for a seventh time at Cheltenham today.
Henderson already holds the record with six triumphs, the first coming back in 1985 with the first of three for See You Then.
He could not have a better representative than Buveur D’Air, who gave him the prize 12 months ago and who has been superbly prepared for the double. After winning all his three starts this term, the seven-year-old is bound to be at his very best for his big day.
Henderson said: “Buveur D’Air’s greatest asset is his jumping – he is so quick it is frightening. He measures them so precisely – it is like hurdlers in athletics, absolute precision.
“I think he is improving, getting stronger. When he was third in the Supreme Hurdle to Altior at the Festival two years ago, we knew he was a good horse on the way up.”
Henderson’s four-strong team also includes My Tent Or Yours, who has been Champion Hurdle runner-up three times, Charli Parcs and Verdana Blue.
Willie Mullins also has four runners, headed by the 2015 hero Faugheen. He has yet to show he is back to his best, but connections are in a positive frame of mind.
Mullins’ son and assistant, Patrick, said: “Faugheen’s form of November [when he won the Morgiana] shows he still has the talent of old but we’ve been scratching our heads the last two runs, the same as
“I think the soft ground will help us as it will make it more of a stamina test.
“It’s hard to expect a big run after his last two runs but, at the same time, we are still confident he is better than his last two runs.”
Arguably the most interesting of the Mullins quartet is Yorkhill. “Without doubt he has been the most frustrating horse in the yard this season,” said Mullins jnr.
“He has so much talent but, this season, nothing has gone to plan. He is a very interesting horse and his best form comes at Cheltenham. Again, the soft ground will help him.
Jockey David Mullins believes Melon could be the dark horse of the party. He said: “We’ve taken the hood off from last time. He is a very unexposed horse and has the potential to improve. His work at home suggest he has improved again and he has a big chance of being in the money.”
The amateur is looking forward to riding Wicklow Brave for his father. “He won a County Hurdle on soft ground so that won’t be a problem and to me he seems great at home,” he said.
“He is not coming here off a prep run but he ran very well in the race last year. The most important key to him is if he jumps off with the others.”
Alan King is happy for Elgin to take his chance after the six-year-old was supplemented following his victory in the Kingwell Hurdle at Wincanton. “We are not really under any pressure and we are looking forward to it,” said the Barbury Castle trainer.
“He didn’t run a bad race at Ascot just before Christmas with top-weight when he got beaten. They went quite slow that day and that wouldn’t have been ideal for him.
“I was surprised how much he improved again before Wincanton. Wayne [Hutchinson] was amazed how well he quickened turning in and we got to the front way too soon.”