Buveur D’Air is set to make his long-awaited return to action at Haydock on Saturday after thrilling trainer Nicky Henderson in an away-day gallop.
The dual Champion Hurdle winner has not been since since suffering a serious injury when runner-up in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle in November 2019, with a piece of wood from a hurdle becoming lodged in his foot and requiring surgery.
Nico de Boinville rode the JP McManus-owned 10-year-old in the gallop and is set to be in the saddle for both The New One Unibet Champion Hurdle Trial on Merseyside and the Champion Hurdle itself, with Aidan Coleman maintaining his partnership with Epatante.
Henderson said in his Unibet blog: “I’m pleased to report that Buveur D’Air is coming along extremely well and had an ‘away day’ on Wednesday and I have got to say he was absolutely amazing.
“To start with he jumped five hurdles at home which was the first time he’d left the ground since the Fighting Fifth Hurdle in 2019 and he certainly hasn’t forgotten anything – he was brilliant!
“His recovery has been nothing short of remarkable and great credit should be given to all the team at Martinstown including John O’Brien and Ger Kelly who did such a good job putting his foot back together, literally.
“I’ve always sort of thought we were ahead of schedule so the time came to give him a serious gallop and after schooling over our hurdles at home we went off elsewhere and jumped seven hurdles over a mile with two lead horses.
“Then one dropped out and another one joined in and they worked together on the flat for another mile where they quickened and quickened and I have to say it was unreal, he didn’t half quicken up to the end!
“It was wonderful to watch because it’s been some journey to get him back bearing in mind we were even questioning if he’d ever be able to race again, but he has made fantastic progress.
“So much so, that I have decided he’s ready to go and I’m very much thinking about running him in The New One Unibet Hurdle at Haydock next Saturday.”
Of Epatante, who remains on course to head straight to Cheltenham to defend her two-mile crown following a surprise defeat in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton, the Seven Barrows handler said: “We checked her out fully after the Christmas Hurdle and nothing came to light.
“But there was just something not quite right about her coming out of the paddock and JP said to me straight after the race that he didn’t think she was herself along the walkway going out to the track.
“So I’ve watched the replay and he was quite right – she wasn’t her usual self and was shaking about and throwing her head around doing all sorts of things she doesn’t normally do, so that may explain a few things.
“She is perfectly fine and training well and I’m looking forward to Cheltenham in March.”