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Hot favourite Buveur D’Air is one of 23 entries for the G1 Unibet Champion Hurdle, worth a record £450,000, at Cheltenham on the first day of The Festival, Champion Day, Tuesday, March 13.
Buveur D’Air (Nicky Henderson), the 4/6 market leader with Unibet, gained the two-mile hurdling crown in 2017 with a convincing victory over stablemate My Tent Or Yours (12/1).
The seven-year-old has looked imperious in two starts so far this season, following up his facile success in Newcastle’s G1 Unibet Fighting Fifth Hurdle with an easy victory in G1 Unibet Christmas Hurdle at Kempton Park on Boxing Day.
No horse has won back-to-back Champion Hurdles since Hardy Eustace completed the feat in 2005.
My Tent Or Yours has finished runner-up in the Unibet Champion Hurdle three times (2014, 2016, 2017) and gained a deserved success in the G2 Unibet International Hurdle at Cheltenham in December, his first victory since February, 2014.
Both Buveur D’Air and My Tent Or Yours are owned by J P McManus, the winning-most owner in the Unibet Champion Hurdle with six wins - thanks to triple winner Istabraq (1998, 1999 and 2000), Binocular (2010), Jezki (2014) and Buveur D’Air (2017).
Nicky Henderson, with six victories, is the most successful handler of all time in the Unibet Champion Hurdle. His five entries are completed by Call Me Lord (33/1), who impressed in a handicap hurdle at Sandown Park on his latest start, Charli Parcs (50/1) and Verdana Blue (40/1).
Willie Mullins, who has landed the spoils four times since 2011, is responsible for six of 11 Irish-trained entries, with his sextet headed by the 2015 winner Faugheen (5/1), the most recent odds-on winner of the Unibet Champion Hurdle.
Faugheen, unbeaten in two starts at The Festival, looked as good ever on his comeback in the G1 Morgiana Hurdle in November, having been off the track for almost two years, but was pulled up on his latest start in the G1 Ryanair Hurdle won by Mick Jazz (Gordon Elliott IRE, 25/1) at Leopardstown on December 29.
Comedy Of Errors (1973 & 1975) and Hurricane Fly (2011 & 2013) are the only two horses to have regained the Champion Hurdle crown.
Mullins has also entered last year’s G1 Sky bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle runner-up Melon (8/1), top-class dual purpose performer Wicklow Brave (20/1) and Bapaume (50/1), plus chasers Min (20/1) and Yorkhill (8/1), who has a 100 per cent record in two outings at The Festival.
Gordon Elliott is yet to have a runner in the Unibet Champion Hurdle. His three entries are completed by last year’s G1 OLBG Mares’ Hurdle heroine Apple’s Jade (25/1) and Campeador (66/1).
Co Waterford handler Henry de Bromhead has two contenders in unexposed French import Arcenfete (66/1) and 2015 G1 Fighting Fifth Hurdle victor Identity Thief (100/1), who has not raced since April, 2017 but finished sixth in the 2016 Unibet Champion Hurdle.
Arcenfete, a winner on the Flat for the Wertheimer brothers and now owned by Gigginstown House Stud, has not raced since recording a comfortable victory on his Jumping debut in a four-year-old hurdle at Auteuil, France, in June, 2016.
De Bromhead said: “Arcenfete is just coming back and seems nice.
“We are hoping to get him out at the end of the month. There is a two-mile conditions hurdle at Naas on January 28 and we are aiming towards that.
“It is only a very tentative entry in the Unibet Champion Hurdle. We felt it was better to have him in, than not.
“Identity Thief is good and worked nicely the other day. We are also aiming towards the end of the month with him, possibly in the same race at Naas.”
Other high-profile contenders for the 2018 Unibet Champion Hurdle include the popular 10-year-old The New One (Nigel Twiston-Davies, 25/1), who has run in this race for the last four years, finishing third, fifth, fourth and fifth, and 2017 G1 JCB Triumph Hurdle hero Defi Du Seuil (Philip Hobbs, 16/1).
Unibet Champion Hurdle – Unibet prices: 4/6 Buveur d'Air; 5/1 Faugheen; 8/1 Melon, Yorkhill; 12/1 My Tent Or Yours; 16/1 Defi du Seuil; 20/1 Min, Wicklow Brave; 25/1 Apple's Jade, Mick Jazz, The New One; 33/1 Call Me Lord, Ch'tibello; 40/1 Verdana Blue; 50/1 Bapaume, Charli Parcs, John Constable, Pingshou; 66/1 Arcenfete, Campeador, Cliffs of Dover; 100/1 Identity Thief, Moon Racer.
Entries for the other G1 championship hurdle races at The Festival, the Sun Bets Stayers’ Hurdles and the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle, will be revealed tomorrow, Thursday, January 18.