Nicky Henderson paid a heartfelt tribute to Buveur D’Air after connections confirmed the dual Champion Hurdle winner’s retirement.
The JP McManus-owned gelding claimed the two-mile hurdling crown at Cheltenham in 2017 and 2018 – and may well have completed the hat-trick the following year but for falling at the third flight.
The 11-year-old won 17 of his 27 races overall, with eight Grade One victories also including Kempton’s Christmas Hurdle, two Fighting Fifth Hurdles at Newcastle and the Punchestown Champion Hurdle.
Henderson said: “Buveur D’Air was one of the real friends, he really was. He was very special and he was very, very good too.
“He was a spectacular horse with a wonderful temperament and his jumping was exemplary. You go back to See You Then and Binocular and that was the great secret to those hurdlers we’ve been lucky enough to have – they could all jump a hurdle so fast it was incredible.”
Buveur D’Air may not even have run in the Champion Hurdle had it not been for his esteemed stable companion Altior.
Altior beat him into third place in the 2016 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and both horses embarked on careers over fences the following autumn.
Henderson, though, was keen to avoid the pair locking horns and spotted an opening in the Champion Hurdle division he felt Buveur D’Air could exploit.
“We went chasing with him and I can actually say he’s retired unbeaten over fences, albeit he only ran twice,” said the Seven Barrows handler.
“Altior was fantastic over fences, so Buveur D’Air was going to have a problem if he continued down that route as he was going to run straight into Altior in the Arkle and things like that.
“We just thought that the Champion Hurdle looked wide open. Either Altior or Buveur D’Air could have switched, we went Buveur D’Air and it paid off.
“Two Champion Hurdles later we weren’t regretting the decision and it could so easily have been a third one when he fell.
“Buveur D’Air jumped fences very well, but it was his hurdling technique that was his forte. He tried to jump fences like hurdles and he was brilliant, but it was always going to be a bit risky.”
After suffering a narrow and shock defeat in his bid for a third Fighting Fifth in 2019, it was soon apparent Buveur D’Air had suffered a nasty foot injury which ultimately kept him off the track for well over a year.
He made it to the races on a further three occasions, including a fourth-placed finish in last year’s Aintree Hurdle, but Henderson admits he could never quite rediscover his past brilliance.
“What happened at Newcastle was really the beginning of the end. He got that piece of wood wedged in his foot and it was pretty gruesome,” he added.
“Unfortunately they had to take away the whole of the front of his hoof to get all the bits of debris out and to be fair, it was a struggle from there on.
“Our farriers and everyone did a brilliant job to get him back and he was very unlucky not to win that Aintree Hurdle when he got left in front and tried to run away, which wasn’t a very clever thing to do, and then the loose horse nearly took him out as well.
“He was unfortunate not to win that day and that would have been just desserts really.”
Buveur D’Air will now head to McManus’ Martinstown Stud in Ireland to enjoy his retirement along with two other Champion Hurdle winners in the brilliant three-time scorer Istabraq and Binocular, who struck Cheltenham gold in 2010 for Henderson.
The trainer said: “He’s going to go home and will be out in the field very shortly with Binocular and Istabraq and all their mates.
“I’m sure he’ll have a happy retirement as it’s the happiest retirement home anybody could wish for.”