HENDERSON IS FLOATING ON AIR
Nicky Henderson's Festival total rose to 57 after 5/1 chance Buveur D'Air gave him a sixth Stan James Champion Hurdle success, making him the winning-most trainer ever in the hurdling championship.
Buveur D'Air, a six-year-old French-bred by Crillon, held off his stable mate My Tent Or Yours by four and a half lengths under Noel Fehily.
Both the first and second home are owned by J P McManus, who was also winning his sixth Stan James Champion Hurdle. It was McManus' 50th Festival triumph in all.
Henderson said: "The horse Buveur D'Air beat very easily first time out at Haydock over fences was second to Altior in the Arkle [Cloudy Dream] and I thought 'blimey, that's good chasing form.' I wondered had I got it wrong [in sending him back over hurdles].
"We felt it was the right thing to do and it has worked on the day. Noel has given him a beautiful ride. Well done him.
"You feel sorry for My Tent Or Yours. It's wonderful - we have won the Champion Hurdle - but that is now three Champion Hurdles he has been second in as well as a Supreme Novices' Hurdle. What else can you say about a horse who has done that again and again? He has been sensational. But the youngster has got home, and that is great.
"I thought Brain Power [Henderson's third runner in the race] was going very well two out but he did not get home. I feel sorry for Michael Buckley (owner)."
McManus said: "Nicky insisted Buveur D'Air went back to hurdling - in the end I let him have his way. It was great to see My Tent Or Yours finishing second for a fourth time here. I don't know which one Barry Geraghty [who misses The Festival through injury] would have chosen, but I wouldn't have been surprised if it had been Buveur D'Air."
Fehily was winning his second Stan James Champion Hurdle, having taken the race in 2012 on the Paul Nicholls-trained Rock On Ruby.
He said: "It doesn't matter to me whether it was a vintage Champion Hurdle or not. Buveur D'Air is a class animal and I won a Grade One at Aintree on him last year. He has been a very good horse to me and I love him to bits.
"I thought early on that maybe he was doing a little bit too much. I thought I had taken too long to get him switched off, but once I got to the top of the hill I was very happy. He travelled great down the hill. That was the one part of the race I was worried about - whether or not he would have the pace.
"It is a privilege to ride in these colours and I am delighted to ride a winner for him [J P McManus].
"You certainly appreciate winning the Stan James Champion Hurdle more the second time round."
BUVEUR D'AIR GIVES HENDERSON SIXTH CHAMPION HURDLE
Nicky Henderson became the most successful trainer of all time in the Stan James Champion Hurdle with six victories (See You Then 1985-1987, Punjabi 2009 and Binocular 2010) following the success of the J P McManus-owned Buveur D'Air in the Grade One two-mile showpiece, the highlight of day one, Champion Day, at the Cheltenham Festival. Henderson has now saddled 57 winners at the Festival, following on from Altior's success in the Grade One Racing Post Arkle Novices' Chase earlier in the day.
Buveur D'Air (5/1), ridden by Noel Fehily, was always prominent and cruised into contention in the home straight, travelling ominously well. The six-year-old son of Crillon winged the final flight and stayed on dourly up the hill to also give owner McManus his sixth victory in the race and 50th success at the Festival. The winner's stable-companion My Tent Or Yours (16/1) also owned by McManus, was four and a half-lengths behind in second and was finishing in the runner-up position in the Grade One event for the third time. Henry de Bromhead's Petit Mouchoir was a further three lengths back in third.
Speaking at a press conference after the race, Henderson, who also ran Brain Power (9th) in the contest, said: "Watching three horses is never easy but they were all running well at the top of the hill. Noel was always going very sweetly and I thought Buveur D'Air was great. I walked the course on Sunday and I thought the ground was juicy enough for him."
The winner started this season over fences and was successful in two novice chase contests at Haydock and Wetherby. However, Henderson was keen to revert back to timber following those runs with a view to having a tilt at the Stan James Champion Hurdle. Explaining the decision, the Seven Barrows maestro said: "He was very good at chasing and on his debut over fences, he beat the horse [Cloudy Dream], who was second to Altior in the Arkle earlier on today so there was nothing wrong with his novice chase form. Admittedly, he wasn't very impressive on his second chase start at Warwick but I knew we were going down the wrong road and he needed to revert back to hurdles as we had unfinished business.
"I lost his novice chase season by going back hurdling and if I had got that wrong, it would have looked a very silly decision but the great thing about J P McManus and his team is they are a great team. There is a pretty strong board behind the company with J P as the chairman and they are just great to train for. When I said hurdling was what I wanted to do, they were totally behind it and that was great and ever since then, that has been the plan. It was soft enough for him today but it couldn't have been that soft as My Tent Or Yours also handled it."
When asked where next for the winner, Henderson suggested the gelding would remain over hurdles and potentially head for the Randox Health Grand National meeting in April. He commented: "It would be difficult not to stay over hurdles with him now. He is a novice chaser for the rest of this season so he could go to Aintree if he wanted to go chasing but I don't think a champion hurdler has ever done that. We like doing extraordinary things but I think that would be a bit bizarre but I don't really know where we go with him now. That ground today was as good as he will ever want it but he also stays so a race over two and a half-miles with cut in the ground would be great. The two and a half-mile race at Aintree [Betway Aintree Hurdle] could suit him over that trip."
Reflecting on his other two runners in the race, Henderson remarked: "My Tent Or Yours, you have to feel sorry for him but he has run at his fourth Festival, second in three Champion Hurdle's. It's been a remarkable story and he has just been a legend and he did so deserve to win one so you have to sympathise with him. I also thought Brain Power was going well two out as well but didn't last home."
Also reflecting on Altior's six length success in the Arkle, Henderson said: "Some will say he wasn't quite as flashy as predicted today. He took his time to get there today, they went a good gallop and he did look a little bit flat but by the time he got to the finishing line he was going away."
50 up for J P McManus
J P McManus, the leading owner at The Festival, made it 50 winners at the meeting when Buveur D'Air won the hurdling crown, the 2017 Stan James Champion Hurdle, from My Tent Or Yours, a one-two for the owner and trainer Nicky Henderson.
His nearest pursuer in winners at The Festival, Gigginstown House Stud, has had 16 successes, which demonstrates McManus' long-term commitment to Jump racing.
His first winner at The Festival was Mister Donovan in the 1982 equivalent of the Neptune Investment Management Novices' Hurdle.
Buveur D'Air was the sixth Stan James Champion Hurdle winner for McManus, following on Istabraq (1998, 199 and 2000), Binocular (2010) and Jezki (2014).
McManus, interviewed on ITV, commented: "Buveur D'Air was reading the script and I also had an eye on My Tent Or Yours in behind. I was in a pretty comfortable position jumping the second last.
"In fairness to poor old Yanworth (the 2/1 favourite trained by Alan King), he got very warm before the race and maybe ran his race beforehand.
"Nicky said not to forget about My Tent Or Yours - Nicky said he would not disgrace himself.
"Full marks to Nicky and his team down there, and all the other trainers. Looking around parade ring there, the horses are a credit to them all. They are in marvellous condition and ready to run for their lives.
"I never thought about reaching 50 winners. It is just a number. Fifty has gone now and we are looking for 51!
"I have many favourites [of the 50]. The first one was great as I had a couple of disappointments before that. Jack Of Trumps in '78 was odds-on for the four miler and fell or unseated on the final circuit. The following year, we had a short-priced one Deep Gale and the same happened to him - he fell five out.
"In '82, Mister Donovan won the Neptune and I always said had he not won I would not have had the others. We then had a quiet time, just having a few runners through the 80s.
"In 1991 Danny Connors won with Jonjo [O'Neill], then we had a double in '94, before the years with Istabraq winning the Champion Hurdle. They were marvellous years. The first year was very sentimental because we had lost John Durkan who found Istabraq for us. It was filled with emotion that day.
"Then we had some marvellous times with A P. Binocular in 2010, Synchronised in 2012 and Uxizandre two years ago. Every winner you have at Cheltenham is a magic moment."
PETIT PRETTY GOOD
Nicky Henderson and owner J P McManus dominated the St James Champion Hurdle with responsibility for the first and second, but in terms of long-term potential third-placed Petit Mouchoir lost little in defeat.
The grey six-year-old, who is part of the Gigginstown House Stud ranks, won an Irish point-to-point over three miles when making his racing debut, so to be squaring up to the best two-milers this season has to be regarded as a bonus. He arrived as winner of the Irish Champion Hurdle, and ran pretty much to that form by again holding off Footpad, who finished fourth, a further three lengths adrift.
Buveur D'Air scored by four and a half lengths from My Tent Or Yours, with 6/1 shot Petit Mouchoir a further three lengths back in third.
Trainer Henry De Bromhead said of Petit Mouchoir: "I'm delighted with him - he's run a fine race, and I'd say he's run up to his Irish Champion mark - it certainly looks like that.
"We tried to put the others under a bit of pressure out in front - he might run again this season, I would think so, but it's up to the lads [Michael and Eddie O'Leary]. We'll get this season out the way before making plans [about chasing in the future]."
FOOTPAD STEALS FOURTH IN A PHOTO-FINISH
Willie Mullins, who had two runners in the Stan James Champion Hurdle today, was delighted with the run of his charge, Footpad, after he was confirmed fourth following a photo-finish, a short-head in front of The New One.
Mullins said:" I was very happy with Footpad - to get in the first four was a good result." Ruby Walsh, jockey of the five year old Creachadoir gelding, added: "He ran a blinder. He is only a five year old and will keep improving."
Mullins also commented on his other runner Wicklow Brave, who finished eighth: "Wicklow just didn't like the start but ran a great race, his first run back after so long. He clearly has ability and we will get it out of him."
Nigel Twiston-Davies, trainer of The New One, said: "It was brilliant, it was his sixth run here and he has never let us down. I think we may go further in distance and Aintree would be our first thought."
3.30pm Stan James Champion Hurdle (Grade 1) - Result
1 BUVEUR D'AIR (J P McManus) Nicky Henderson 11st 10lb Noel Fehily 5/1
2 My Tent Or Yours (J P McManus) (Hood) Nicky Henderson 11st 10lb Aidan Coleman 16/1
3 Petit Mouchoir (Gigginstown House Stud) Henry de Bromhead, Ireland 11st 10lb Bryan Cooper 6/1
4 Footpad (Simon Munir/Issac Souede) Willie Mullins, Ireland 11st 10lb Ruby Walsh 14/1
5 The New One (S Such & C Paletta) Nigel Twiston-Davies 11st 10lb Sam Twiston-Davies 10/1
6 Sceau Royal (Simon Munir/Issac Soude) Alan King 11st 10lb Daryl Jacob 25/1
7 Yanworth (J P McManus) (Sheepskin C/P) Alan King 11st 10lb Mark Walsh 2/1 Fav
8 Wicklow Brave (Wicklow Bloodstock Ltd) Willie Mullins, Ireland 11st 10lb Paul Townend 22/1
9 Brain Power (IRE) (Michael Buckley) (Sheepskin C/P) Nicky Henderson 11st 10lb David Mullins 13/2
10 Cyrus Darius (Mr & Mrs G Calder & P M Warren) Malcolm Jefferson 11st 10lb Brian Hughes 50/1
PU BEF 3 OUT Moon Racer (Professor Caroline Tisdall & Bryan Drew) David Pipe 11st 10lb Tom Scudamore 10/1
Distances: 4½, 3, 3, sh, 2¾, ½, ¾, 15, 14
Time: 3m 52.38s
Tote Win: £5.90 Places: £2.00; £3.40; £2.30 Exacta: £64.30
Non-Runner: CH'TIBELLO (FR) Self Certificate (Infected Foot)
J P McManus - 50th winner at The Festival
Nicky Henderson - 57th winner at The Festival
Noel Fehily - 4th winner at The Festival
Record 6th Champion Hurdle win for Nicky Henderson following See You Then (1985, 1986, 1987), Punjabi (2009), and Binocular (2010)
Record 6th Champion Hurdle win for J P McManus following Istabraq (1998, 1999, 2000), Binocular (2010) and Jezki (2014)
Second Champion Hurdle win for Noel Fehily following Rock On Ruby (2012)
BetBright Cup - standings after 4 races
Great Britain 3