Cheltenham Festival Day 2: Queen Mother Champion Chase Day

Annette Crawford
March 15, 2018

Mick Fitzgerald knows the time of day at Nicky Henderson's yard and describes Altior as a rocket who would win the Champion Hurdle, Champion Chase and probably the Champions League if they let him enter it.

The first back-to-back victor of the hurdling highlight since Hardy Eustace in 2004 and 2005, Buveur D'Air, the 4/6 favourite was always prominent under Barry Geraghty and despite being headed by the Willie Mullins-trained Melon (7/1), the seven-year-old son of Crillon rallied tenaciously under Geraghty to win by a neck in a thrilling finish.

Faugheen crossed the line in sixth, 22 lengths behind the victor, and trainer Willie Mullins accepted the brilliant victor of the 2015 Champion Hurdle is no longer the force of old, nor indeed the best hurdler in his stable. Whether he's the real deal or yet another hype horse will be decided in a race with a pedigree of throwing up rare champions such Faugheen, Hardy Eustace and Istabraq. Despite him also being the stable's third or fourth string in the race, there's a temptation to take some of the 33/1 ew or indeed 16/1 w/o fav.

Although suffering defeat at the hands of Irish Grand National victor Our Duke last time out, connections of the Patrick Kelly-trained seven-year-old are hopeful.

The duo battled all the way to the line but the reigning champ scored by a neck.

Henderson, saddling his seventh Champion Hurdle victor, said: "It was a good race, a proper race". I think he did get headed but Barry said he was never anxious as he thought he would always get there. It's the first time he has had a race all season (after three easy wins) and that did worry me, I must admit.

Buveur D'Air could now bid for a second win in the Aintree Hurdle on Grand National Thursday on April 12.

Altior has been declared fit to run following his 11 hour lameness scare, Nicky Henderson tweeting yesterday morning that he was "perfectly sound, it's all systems go". I bet it was a course record for heavy ground.

The very classy Presenting Percy, successful over hurdles at the meeting previous year, is the biggest worry. He said: "It made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up". The ground made it the ultimate test, there's nowhere to hide. Buveur D'Air won it the hard way. I tried to save as much as I could on the turn in and go for him as late as possible and he found when it was needed. I missed one [hurdle] down the back, which I did not expect. It was a proper race. "He's as tough as nails and pulled it out".

"Bad luck was the only thing that was going to beat him, and he didn't get bad luck today". The Grade 1 race covers a total of 3 miles 2/1 furlongs and welcomes the world's best race horses to the circuit each year. He dug deep thankfully, what a buzz'. His rider Felix de Giles is very good, so why not a long-awaited French win in the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase?

"It's great to get a victor - I missed last season and it's great to get a big victor for your boss".

Despite his mixed season this year he does have form over soft so on the back of his performance last year, he is a massive price both with and without the favourite. "It is a relief it is over". "Two very courageous horses and two great jockeys".

Other reports by Iphone Fresh

Discuss This Article