Nicky Henderson was pleased with Buveur D’Air’s comeback effort in defeat at Haydock on Saturday and feels the fire still burns brightly.
The two-times Champion Hurdle winner needs to defy the statistics at Cheltenham in March if he is to regain his crown, as the last 10-year-old to win the race was Sea Pigeon in 1980, who went on to win it again as an 11-year-old the following season.
Buveur D’Air faced two rivals in the Champion Hurdle Trial on Merseyside, but could not peg back the front-running Navajo Pass, who was given a bold ride by Sean Quinlan.
The JP McManus-owned former champion was having his first race for over 400 days after suffering a season-ending injury in the 2019 Fighting Fifth Hurdle, when a piece of timber became lodged in his hoof.
“He was absolutely 100 per cent this morning, which was great,” said Henderson.
“It was different than coming back from something like a tendon injury and I did feel if something was going to rear it’s head this time, it would have been early on in his preparation rather than late.
“He was great this morning though, good as gold, and that’s the main thing.”
Henderson had originally planned to run Buveur D’Air in Sandown’s Contenders Hurdle next month, a race he has won three times before, but he came to hand quicker than expected.
“I couldn’t have got him any fitter at home if we were to wait for Sandown, so we’ve two weeks longer to get him as well as we can (for Cheltenham) now,” said Henderson.
“What you’ve got to remember is he’s 10 now, it’s not like training a four-year-old or a five-year-old who has had a year off.
“I’m not saying he’s got old legs or anything like that, but he is a bit older and it’s that bit harder for them. It doesn’t mean they don’t retain all their ability, though.
“I know no 10-year-old has won it since Sea Pigeon and then you have to go all the way back to Hatton’s Grace, but we were very happy with how he ran.
“Of course we wanted to win, but I’m pleased we did it. I don’t think he did anything wrong in that ground. He did not like it but his jumping was still so fast, that was still great to watch.
“The last time he ran in ground as bad as that he was beaten at Aintree by Supasundae and then three weeks later went to Punchestown and bolted up in their Champion Hurdle under Davy Russell.”
Henderson is lucky enough to be in the position of housing the current champion, too, in Epatante, but she needs to bounce back from a below-par run at Kempton over Christmas.
“We’ve Epatante as well, of course, and if they both get there in one piece we’ll be happy, but with that under his belt, I really think we can build on that,” said the Seven Barrows handler, who is now also looking for another opening for smart novice chaser Allart, who was a faller at Haydock on Saturday.
“Allart was fine as well, but that was annoying because he’s got to go and do something else now. His schooling and everything had been fantastic, but there you go,” said Henderson.