A third victory in the Unibet Champion Hurdle is the ultimate aim for Buveur D’Air, who returned to the care of trainer Nicky Henderson on Friday.
Winner of the Cheltenham Festival feature in 2017 and 2018, Buveur D’Air fell at the third flight when attempting a hat-trick in 2019 – and after the nine-year-old bounced back with victory in the Punchestown Champion Hurdle later that spring, hopes were high he could regain his crown.
However, he suffered a shock defeat at the hands of Cornerstone Lad on his return to action in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle last November and it later transpired a piece of wood had punctured his hoof after he clattered a hurdle during the race, with the injury requiring surgery which ruled him out for the rest of the campaign.
Buveur D’Air returned to owner JP McManus’ Martinstown Stud for a recovery period, but Henderson is thrilled to have him back at Seven Barrows now, although he will not rush the gelding into action.
He told his Unibet blog: “We were delighted to welcome Buveur D’Air back to Seven Barrows on Friday morning and the team at Martinstown have done a tremendous job because he looks absolutely fantastic and it’s lovely to see his familiar face looking out over the stable door again.
“He’s been doing plenty of trotting on the grass at JP’s place, where they made him a special shoe to help through this current stage and the head lads in Ireland have kept us well up to date with his progress by sending pictures and videos throughout his time there, but he looks fabulous and is now ready to step up his training to the next level.
“We certainly won’t be rushing him and it will be a very steady process, but Hannah (Ryan, pupil assistant) knows him better than any of us, so we’ll take it step by step and gradually build him back up towards attempting to win a third Unibet Champion Hurdle.”
While Buveur D’Air was sidelined, Henderson and McManus still claimed the Champion Hurdle with Epatante and the trainer is eager to keep the pair apart in their Festival preps.
He added: “I must admit I haven’t told him (Buveur D’Air) about Epatante yet, because when he disappeared from the scene nobody had even heard of her, she hadn’t even won the Christmas Hurdle.
“But I imagine the plan for her would be up to Newcastle for the Fighting Fifth followed by Kempton on Boxing Day, whereas Buveur D’Air is obviously much further behind than the rest of the squad and will take a lot more time, so won’t be out in the early part of the season and, barring mishap, we’d be look at races like the Unibet International at Cheltenham and then we’ll probably be getting headaches trying to keep them both apart, but it’s a nice problem to have – albeit all a long way away and we will take each day as it comes.”