Tag Archive for: Buveur D’Air

Aintree still the target for Aintree for Buveur D’Air

Buveur D’Air remains on course for the Aintree Hurdle next month after satisfying connections on his comeback run at Kelso on Saturday.

The 11-year-old, trained by Nicky Henderson, showed up well enough for most of the two-mile journey until his lack of recent racecourse action took its toll in the soft ground. He weakened out of contention to finish ninth of 11 and 27 lengths behind the winner Cormier.

It was his first start since he was fourth in the Aintree Hurdle last April and that race, which he won in 2017, is still the target.

“He’s come out of the race very well. There were four hurdles missing (due to the low sun) which wasn’t a help and he just got very tired in the ground,” said Frank Berry, racing manager to owner JP McManus.

“Nicky says he’s come out of the race very well so hopefully, all going well, we’ll see him in Liverpool.

“It was nice to see him back and he came out of it good, which is the main thing.”

Buveur D’Air returns to the fray in Morebattle Hurdle

Buveur D’Air is the star attraction in the bet365 Morebattle Hurdle at Kelso on Saturday.

Nicky Henderson’s stable stalwart can count two Champion Hurdles, two Fighting Fifth Hurdles, a Christmas Hurdle and a Punchestown Champion Hurdle among his 17 career victories.

He was sidelined for well over a year after suffering a nasty injury when bidding for a Fighting Fifth hat-trick in 2019, but returned last season with two sound efforts in defeat – finishing second in the Champion Hurdle Trial at Haydock and fourth in the Aintree Hurdle.

Henderson has taken his time before bringing the 11-year-old back to the track this term and has not even entered him for the Cheltenham Festival as he instead targeting a return to Aintree next month.

Buveur D’Air in his stable at Seven Barrows
Buveur D’Air in his stable at Seven Barrows (David Davies/PA)

“It’s great to see him back out again. Nicky is very happy with him. Hopefully he’ll come on for the run, but it’s great to see him out again and get him started,” said Frank Berry, racing manager to owner JP McManus.

“He’s not getting any younger, but it will be interesting to see how he runs. Hopefully he’ll run a nice race.

“We’ll get that out of the way and it would be nice to see him finish off the season somewhere.”

Chief among Buveur D’Air’s rivals is the Harry Fry-trained Metier, who got back on the winning trail in the mud at Lingfield in January.

Metier was back to his best at Lingfield
Metier was back to his best at Lingfield (Simon Marper/PA)

Fry has been pleased with last year’s Tolworth Hurdle winner since and any rain is an obvious plus to his chance this weekend.

“We were delighted with him at Lingfield. Obviously he’s gone up in the weights as a result, as you would expect, but we’re very happy with him,” said the Seaborough-based trainer.

“There’s a damp forecast and we just hope they get the top end of the range in terms of their rainfall amounts – the more rain the better for us.

“It’s another very competitive handicap hurdle, as you would expect when there’s a very good prize on offer. We’re happy with our horse and hope he can build on what he did at Lingfield.”

A total prize fund of £100,000 is up for grabs in the Kelso feature, with a further £100,000 bonus on offer if the winner can follow up in any race at the Cheltenham Festival.

Emmet Mullins-trained Irish raider The Shunter managed to pull off the double last season, but Fry is keen to get this assignment out of the way before deciding whether Metier could bid to repeat that feat.

Fry, who has entered Metier for the Coral Cup and the County Hurdle, added: “We’ll be trying to win at Kelso first and we’ll worry about things like that afterwards, if we’re lucky enough to win.”

Brian Ellison’s Cormier won at Cheltenham in January and is in the same two handicaps as Metier at the upcoming showpiece meeting.

On his chance, Ellison said: “It’s very competitive, but he’s been a grand little horse and seems in good form.

“We’re hoping for a good run and obviously we could go to Cheltenham afterwards.”

Other contenders include Jessica Harrington’s Autumn Evening, who finished third at last month’s Dublin Racing Festival, and Saint D’oroux, who won at Kelso on his latest outing for Stuart Crawford.

Buveur D’Air set for Morebattle return

Dual champion hurdler Buveur D’Air is all set to make his seasonal reappearance in the bet365 Morebattle Hurdle at Kelso on March 5.

Now 11, he has only had three races since winning the Punchestown Champion Hurdle in 2019.

He picked up a serious injury when edged out in the Fighting Fifth later that year and despite being surprisingly beaten at Haydock following a 420-day absence last January, he showed plenty of his old ability remained when not far behind in fourth in the Aintree Hurdle last season.

A return to Merseyside is his priority for trainer Nicky Henderson.

“He’s in fantastic form,” said Henderson.

Buveur D’Air looks out from his stable at Seven Barrows this week
Buveur D’Air looks out from his stable at Seven Barrows this week (Tim Goode/PA)

“He worked extremely well on Saturday and the plan is to go to Kelso next week. He wasn’t quite ready to run last weekend (Kingwell), but worked really well on Saturday, although he did have a good blow.

“I’m trying to get him ready for the Aintree Hurdle and I couldn’t use the Champion Hurdle as a prep could I!

“We wanted to start him off over two miles and then go up to two and a half miles with a fresh horse. He really did work well for a gentleman of his age at the weekend. It was lovely to watch and he had his ears pricked at the end of the gallop.

“He ran a great race at Aintree last year and then had a problem which kept him out of Punchestown unfortunately. That was a shame, but JP’s team have done a great job at Martinstown Stud getting him going again.”

Champ confirmed for Stayers’ Hurdle – but no Cheltenham for Sharjah

Champ has been taken out of the Boodles Gold Cup while Sharjah will miss the Unibet Champion Hurdle following the latest forfeit stage for the major Cheltenham Festival races.

Nicky Henderson’s 10-year-old Champ is already a winner at the big meeting having come from an unpromising position to land the 2020 RSA (now Brown Advisory) Chase and will take his chance in the Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle this year.

He ran in the Gold Cup last season, but was pulled up and it emerged he was suffering with a back issue.

The JP McManus-owned gelding started out this season back over the smaller obstacles, where he recorded an impressive success in the Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot. He has also has since run with credit in the Cleeve Hurdle, when second to Paisley Park.

“It think it just looked the obvious thing to do, he’s got to stay over hurdles now,” said Henderson.

“We’ve got Chantry House for the Gold Cup, we’re very happy with him. We all had a talk about it and the Stayers’ Hurdle just looks the right race for Champ.”

Veteran stablemate Buveur D’Air has also been taken out of his two engagements at the Festival, in the Champion and Stayers’ Hurdles, and he now has the Aintree Hurdle, which he won back in 2017, as his aim.

Buveur D’Air has the Aintree Hurdle as his aim
Buveur D’Air has the Aintree Hurdle as his aim (PA Wire)

“There’s nothing wrong with Buveur, we’ve only really had major objective with him which is the Aintree Hurdle,” said Henderson.

“We want one run before that but we’ve only ever been aiming at the Aintree Hurdle, he ran very well in it last year.

“We think it would be unfair on him to use the Champion Hurdle as a prep race! That might be stretching it a bit far.

“I was thinking about the Kingwell (at Wincanton on Feburary 19), but he might not be ready for that but he could run in a handicap somewhere or something.

“It’s all been discussed and Aintree and Punchestown are his targets. We might get a run in before Cheltenham, but not in enough time to get him ready for Cheltenham so there wasn’t much point leaving him in.”

Multiple Grade One winner Sharjah will miss the Champion Hurdle
Multiple Grade One winner Sharjah will miss the Champion Hurdle (PA Wire)

Sharjah has been second in the Unibet Champion Hurdle for the last years and was most recently seen winning the Matheson Hurdle at Leopardstown’s Christmas meeting for the fourth time.

Trainer Willie Mullins told www.sportinglife.com: “Unfortunately Sharjah won’t make Cheltenham and has been taken out of the race.

“The aim is to get him back for Punchestown, a track where he has already won the Morgiana Hurdle twice.”

Buveur D’Air seeks his second Aintree Hurdle

Buveur D’Air bids to roll back the years and claim a second victory in the Betway Aintree Hurdle.

It is four years since the dual Champion Hurdle hero claimed Thursday’s two-and-a-half-mile Grade One – and he finished second to Supasundae when the race was last run in 2019.

However, Buveur D’Air has endured a far from straightforward couple of years since – with a freak hoof injury suffered in the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle later that year keeping him on the sidelines until his comeback at Haydock in January.

Nicky Henderson with Buveur D'Air at Seven Barrows
Nicky Henderson with Buveur D’Air at Seven Barrows (Steven Paston/PA)

After he was beaten by Navajo Pass there, connections ultimately opted against bidding for a third Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham last month – a decision trainer Nicky Henderson hopes will pay off on Merseyside.

He said: “He’s come on since Haydock. We had a little hiccup before Cheltenham, which helped us make the decision to come here.

“I think the extra half-a-mile is not an unnatural thing to do when you’re 10 years old.”

The Seven Barrows handler believes it is a triumph in itself that Buveur D’Air managed to return to the track following the setback he suffered in the north-east almost 18 months ago.

He added: “It was a freak thing that happened to him at Newcastle – the photograph of that piece of wood sticking out of his hoof was absolutely terrifying.

“Both our vets here and the vets in Ireland have done an amazing job. To be fair, it’s a miracle he’s racing again at all.

“To win a race like this and get one back always gives you great satisfaction.”

Among Buveur D’Air’s opponents, Olly Murphy’s Brewin’upastorm and the Paul Nicholls-trained McFabulous renew rivalry after finishing first and second in the National Spirit Hurdle at Fontwell in February.

Murphy said: “It’s been a long-term plan, and two and a half miles on good ground are his ideal conditions.

“It looks very competitive, but he’s going there in the form of his life – and fingers crossed, he’s got a real good each-way chance.”

Nicholls is confident McFabulous can gain revenge, telling Betfair: “Things didn’t go his way at Fontwell, where the track was a bit tight for him and he was caught in a pocket at a crucial time.

“He was also giving 6lb to the winner, who is very good on his day.

“McFabulous will be much happier round a galloping track like Aintree and will relish the drying ground. Hopefully he will go very well.”

Abacadabras after winning the Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown
Abacadabras after winning the Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown (Niall Carson/PA)

Abacadabras and Jason The Militant are two leading contenders from Ireland.

Denise Foster’s Abacadabras was an early faller in the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham, while the Henry de Bromhead-trained Jason The Militant was last seen landing the rescheduled Red Mills Trial Hurdle at Fairyhouse in February.

Foster said: “Abacadabras looks amazing at the moment – and I’m looking forward to him, definitely.

“It’s an open race, and I think he would be one of the horses I’d be looking forward to most (this week).”

Three-time Grade One winner Song For Someone (Tom Symonds) and Christmas Hurdle hero Silver Streak (Evan Williams), who is the highest-rated horse in the field, also feature in an 11-strong field.

Buveur D’Air to seek Aintree Hurdle repeat

Buveur D’Air will bid to roll back the years and win a second Betway Aintree Hurdle.

Nicky Henderson’s 10-year-old lifted Thursday’s Grade One prize over two-and-a-half miles in 2017, and was runner-up in 2019.

The dual Champion Hurdle winner was sidelined for 420 days when suffering a freak injury in the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle in November 2019 – and returned to action only in January when he was beaten by Navajo Pass at Haydock.

Henderson also runs Buzz – while Silver Steak, who was a well-beaten fifth in the 2019 renewal of this race on his only previous attempt at two-and-a-half miles, is among the 11 declared this time.

The Evan Williams-trained grey won the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton this winter and was sixth in the Champion Hurdle on his latest start.

Tom Symonds’ Song For Someone, who defeated Silver Streak by a nose in the International Hurdle at Cheltenham in December, is among the opposition – along with the talented but unpredictable Not So Sleepy.

The two Irish-trained runners are Denise Foster’s Abacadabras and Henry de Bromhead’s Jason The Militant, winner of the Red Mills Trial Hurdle.

The other runners are Ballyandy, Brewin’upastorm, McFabulous and Millers Bank.

Emmet Mullins’ versatile performer The Shunter is one of seven declared for the SSS Super Alloys Manifesto Novices’ Chase.

The eight-year-old is effective over hurdles and fences, and scooped a £100,000 bonus for connections when winning the Paddy Power Plate Handicap Chase at Cheltenham after taking Kelso’s Morebattle Hurdle.

Rivals include the Henderson-trained Fusil Raffles, who was second to stablemate Chantry House in the Marsh Novices’ Chase at the Festival.

Eldorado Allen, Hitman, Phoenix Way, Protektorat and Umbrigado are also in the mix.

Adagio, runner-up in the Triumph Hurdle, will try to go one better in the Doom Bar Anniversary 4-Y-O Juvenile Hurdle.

The David Pipe-trained four-year-old is already a Grade One winner, having landed the Finale Juvenile Hurdle at Chepstow in January.

There are two unbeaten horses over hurdles among the six runners – Paul Nicholls’ Monmiral and Donald McCain’s Fiveandtwenty.

Dan Skelton’s pair Carlos Felix and John Locke, plus the Henderson-trained Paros, make up the sextet.

Shishkin to spearhead ‘solid’ Aintree squad for Henderson

Shishkin is set to lead Nicky Henderson’s squad into battle at next week’s Randox Grand National Festival at Aintree.

The Seven Barrows handler assembled what he views as a “pretty solid team” for the three-day meeting, which did not take place last season because of the coronavirus outbreak.

Henderson admits Aintree will have a very different look to it this year without the usual crowds, but he is nevertheless looking forward to making the trip to Merseyside.

He said: “We’ve had great days at Aintree. It’s always been tremendous fun and everyone is incredibly hospitable.

Nicky Henderson is looking forward to Aintree
Nicky Henderson is looking forward to Aintree (David Davies/PA)

“The atmosphere is great – it’s a bit more relaxed than Cheltenham.

“It’s not going to be the same as normal years, obviously – but it’s enjoyable and I think we’ve got a pretty solid team.”

The undoubted star of the show as far as Henderson is concerned is Shishkin, who extended his unbeaten record over fences to four with a runaway success in the Arkle Trophy at Cheltenham last month.

The seven-year-old will bid to round off his flawless campaign with another Grade One win in the Doom Bar Maghull Novices’ Chase on Saturday week.

“He was very good at Cheltenham. I think it was a relief as much as anything,” Henderson added.

“He was very professional. He has a different jumping technique to some horses – he’s very quick and gets from A to B without you noticing he’s done it.

“This is the obvious place to come. I don’t see there’s any reason to go any further than two miles at the moment as he is a sharp horse.

“He won’t go to Punchestown. Shishkin would finish his season here, I hope.”

Henderson’s pair of Chantry House and Fusil Raffles finished first and second respectively in the Marsh Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham.

Chantry House in action at Cheltenham
Chantry House in action at Cheltenham (David Davies/Jockey Club)

However, they are set to be split at Aintree, with Fusil Raffles sticking to two and a half miles in Thursday’s Sss Super Alloys Manifesto Novices’ Chase and Chantry House stepping up to three miles for the Betway Mildmay Novices’ Chase the following afternoon.

Henderson hopes two of Ireland’s star novice chases, Monkfish and Envoi Allen, will be staying at home, adding: “We’ve read that Monkfish and Envoi Allen are going to take each other on at Punchestown, unless it’s an April Fool!

“I hope they do and we can all go round amongst ourselves at Aintree.”

The multiple champion trainer is planning to step Mister Fisher up in distance for the opening afternoon’s Betway Bowl.

The son of Jeremy, who was pulled up in the Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham, is likely to have plenty on his plate, however.

Mister Fisher is bound for the Betway Bowl
Mister Fisher is bound for the Betway Bowl (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Henderson said: “We’ve been dying to try him over three miles – it’s always looked exactly what he wanted.

“There’s talk of Tiger Roll running and I gather A Plus Tard may possibly come, so there’s going to be a lot of Irish competition still, although I think we’re all rather hoping a lot of them will stay at home for Punchestown and not travel again!

“It will be a good race, but I think three miles on good ground at Aintree will suit Mister Fisher and I’m keen to run him.”

On the same day, Buveur D’Air will bid for a second win in the Betway Aintree Hurdle.

With connections deciding against bidding for a third Champion Hurdle success at Cheltenham, the 10-year-old will be running for only the second time since suffering a freak hoof injury in the 2019 Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle.

He finished second on his return from over a year off the track at Haydock in January.

“We kept him out of Cheltenham and I think an extra half a mile will help him,” said his trainer.

“He wouldn’t want fast ground, but he’s in very good form and schooled this morning and was as electric as ever.”

Henderson confirmed Heross Du Seuil an intended runner in the Doom Bar Anniversary 4-Y-O Juvenile Hurdle on the opening day, while plans are more fluid for the exciting Dusart, who has not been seen since his hurdling debut at Newbury in November.

Henderson said: “Dusart was very impressive at Newbury. He then had a freak accident and has been missing since. I actually didn’t think we’d get him back at all this season.

“He’s a smart horse, I hope. He could run in the Top Novices’ Hurdle over two miles, the Mersey Novices’ Hurdle over two and a half, or he might just wait for Ayr.

“Ronnie (Bartlett, owner) is coming to see him work on Friday and we’ll decide after that.

“Pipesmoker will almost certainly go for the two-and-a-half-mile race.”

One horse unlikely to be part of the Henderson’s Aintree battalion is Altior.

Having disappointingly missed the Cheltenham Festival for the second year in succession, the 11-year-old looks set to instead head for the Celebration Chase at Sandown, which he has already won three times

Nicky Henderson with Altior
Nicky Henderson with Altior (David Davies/PA)

“He will do a bit of work this weekend, but it will be his first since the dirty scope that meant he missed Cheltenham,” said Henderson.

“I’m wouldn’t rule Aintree out, but I think it’s more likely he’ll wait for the Celebration.”

Asked whether he expected Altior to return next season, he added: “I hope so – there’s no reason why not.

“He’s as fresh as paint here and in great form.”

While Henderson has famously never won the Randox Grand National, he has won the other big race over the famous fences – the Topham Chase – on five occasions.

This year he plans to run Caribean Boy, Lust For Glory, Morning Vicar and Precious Cargo, saying: “It’s easy going round (the National course) once, but getting round twice is a big problem!

“All four are intended runners. They’ve all schooled over National fences and all went well.”

On The Blind Side and Call Me Lord, meanwhile, could contest the Ryanair Stayers Hurdle on Grand National day.

Buveur D’Air to miss Champion Hurdle

Nicky Henderson has announced that his dual Champion Hurdle winner Buveur D’Air will not bid to regain his crown next week.

Buveur D’Air, successful in the Cheltenham Festival showpiece in 2017 and 2018, will instead head for the Aintree Hurdle over two and a half miles next month.

The 10-year-old, owned by JP McManus, returned from a 420-day injury lay-off when second of three in the The New One Unibet Hurdle at Haydock in January.

He has remained in the Champion Hurdle reckoning, after his trainer voiced satisfaction with his well-being following that comeback.

However, on Monday evening, Henderson posted on his official Twitter account:  “Having discussed plans with JP over the weekend, we have decided that Buveur D’Air will NOT run @CheltenhamRaces and instead will wait for @AintreeRaces

“The extra distance will suit him well. He and Epatante are in very good form, and we are very much looking forward to next week.”

Henderson anticipating Buveur D’Air progress after Haydock return

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.”

JP McManus, Nicky Henderson (centre) and Davy Russell after the 2019 Punchestown Champion Hurdle
JP McManus, Nicky Henderson (centre) and Davy Russell after the 2019 Punchestown Champion Hurdle (PA Wire)

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.

Henderson remains upbeat on Buveur D’Air despite comeback defeat

Nicky Henderson was disappointed but not dismayed after dual Champion Hurdle hero Buveur D’Air suffered defeat on his long-awaited return to action at Haydock.

Having claimed Cheltenham Festival glory in both 2017 and 2018, the JP McManus-owned 10-year-old fell when bidding for the hat-trick the following season.

Hopes of regaining his crown last March were dashed by a freak injury suffered in the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle, where he returned with a piece of wood lodged in his foot, which later required surgery and a significant period of rehabilitation.

It has been a long road back for Buveur D’Air, but such was his well being, Henderson changed a long-term plan to run at Sandown next month and instead bring him out a fortnight earlier in The New One Unibet Hurdle on Merseyside.

Despite 14-month absence, he was widely expected to make a successful return against two rivals – but despite receiving weight from both eventual winner Navajo Pass and last year’s victor Ballyandy, the 8-11 favourite was unable to reel in Donald McCain’s front-runner.

However, Henderson was optimistic overall as he assessed the performance post-race.

“He’s jumped like he always used to – it’s very quick and accurate, isn’t it?,” said the Seven Barrows handler

“Nico (de Boinville) thought he’d got the winner covered going to the last, but then he took a big blow.

Nicky Henderson with Buveur D'Air
Nicky Henderson with Buveur D’Air (Steven Paston/PA)

“He doesn’t like that very heavy ground. People will say I would say that, but there you go.

“He’s got a run under his belt and will come on tons for that. I’m still pleased we got on and did that today, rather than wait for Sandown in a fortnight’s time, as he wouldn’t be any straighter then – and we’ve now got more time to play with between now and March.”

Buveur D’Air is a general 20-1 shot to become the fifth horse to win a third Champion Hurdle, with Epatante – who won the race in her stablemate’s absence last season – the 9-4 favourite, despite also being beaten on her latest outing in the Christmas Hurdle.

Of Buveur D’Air, Henderson added: “We’ll stick to the plan and go for the Champion Hurdle.

“I’m disappointed not to win today. Of course you want to win and win on the bridle, but that was hardly going to happen in that ground – they’ve done well to race, to be honest with you.

“I do (think the old Buveur d’Air is in there), and he was bound to need it today. He looked big to me, the scales were saying that he’s lighter than he looks, but he does look big, and he needed to go and do something like that.

“I’d have preferred a different result, but that’s what we have to take. We know where we are and know what we’ve got to do.

“He pulled up sound and everything is right. There are no lumps or bumps – or pieces of wood sticking out!

“He’ll be tired tonight, there’s no doubt about that. He’s not going to run again before the Champion Hurdle, but you can go back to work and I’d say he’s almost certain to have a racecourse gallop somewhere.”

Navajo Pass upsets Buveur D’Air at Haydock

Navajo Pass inflicted a surprise defeat on the returning Buveur D’Air in Haydock’s The New One Unibet Hurdle.

Donald McCain’s winner was sent off the 4-1 outsider of three to beat dual Champion Hurdle hero Buveur D’Air and Ballyandy – who took this Grade Two 12 months ago.

But forceful tactics paid off as Navajo Pass led from the outset and kept enough in reserve to see off Buveur D’Air, who challenged after the last hurdle but could not reel in his rival and had to settle for a four-and-a-quarter length second.

Sent off the 8-11 favourite, Nicky Henderson’s Buveur D’Air was having his first run in 14 months, since suffering an injury that required surgery when also beaten at short odds in the 2019 Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle.

A thrilled McCain said of his Sean Quinlan-ridden winner: “He’s going to be a very smart horse.

“This is a season where you usually get lost a bit because it’s his first season out of juvenile hurdles. We’ve been running in handicaps with huge weights and today he was taking on two horses that were twice his age!

“It’s hard, but we knew he was fit, we knew he could jump and we knew he was in good nick after winning up at Musselburgh.

“We could have floated round for third, but I spoke to Tim (Leslie, owner) before and we said we’d take a punt and make it a test and see what happens.

“We were obviously counting on Buveur D’Air needing the run in bad old Haydock ground. To get the old horse back from the injury he had is a big effort from Nicky and his team.

Navajo Pass on his way to victory
Navajo Pass on his way to victory (David Davies/PA)

“We just came here thinking there was nowhere else to go before the spring festivals and it’s worked out.”

Navajo Pass is not entered in the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham.

Asked whether supplementing was a possibility, McCain added: “We’ll speak to Tim. I don’t think he’s a Champion Hurdle horse – I don’t think he’s got the natural speed for a Champion Hurdle, but I might be wrong.

“My first thoughts were he’s going to be more suited to Aintree, if anywhere. I know Tim likes Aintree and we love Aintree, obviously.

“We’ll just enjoy today for now. I can’t emphasise enough that he’s next year’s horse.”

Bookmaker reaction to the comeback defeat of Buveur D’Air saw his ante-post price for this year’s Champion Hurdle double from 10-1 to 20-1 with Betfair and Paddy Power.

Henderson said: “Of course we’re disappointed, but the winner set a really good gallop and I think they were going as fast as they could behind him, to be honest.

“It looked as though he (Buveur D’Air) was going to get there comfortably, but when he got to the last he just had a big blow.

“That ground is not for him, but he’s done well and his jumping was as good as ever – he jumped every hurdle like he used to.

“I’d expect him to come on hugely. He’ll definitely still go for the Champion Hurdle and he won’t run beforehand.”

Buveur D’Air all set for Haydock return

Buveur D’Air makes his long-awaited return after 420 days on the sidelines at Haydock – but The New One Unibet Hurdle is unlikely to be a “gimme”, despite only two horses taking on the former champion.

The Nicky Henderson-trained 10-year-old receives weight from both his rivals on Saturday and is proven in testing conditions, although the Grade Two affair may not have been the first race on the Seven Barrows trainer’s agenda for the JP McManus-owned gelding.

However, Henderson has been delighted with how Buveur D’Air has got himself into a position to race again, after he picked up a nasty injury to his hoof at Newcastle in November 2019, with a six-inch splinter from a hurdle becoming stuck in his foot, requiring surgery.

Nicky Henderson with Buveur D'Air at his Seven Barrows yard in Lambourn
Nicky Henderson with Buveur D’Air at his Seven Barrows yard in Lambourn (Steven Paston/PA)

“This wasn’t the original plan, but he was so well and came to himself much quicker than I anticipated so we decided to come here and it will be great to see him back on a racetrack,” Henderson – whose current champion Epatante was beaten at odds-on in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton on Boxing Day – said in his Unibet blog.

“It was very much touch and go as to whether he’d even race again because he had to have his foot literally put back together, but we have changed the way he trains and he never sets foot on anything other than grass and everything has gone well.

“Yes there are only three runners and yes he receives weight, but it’s still a horse race and he has to jump and gallop round safely so it’s certainly no ‘gimme’. But I couldn’t be happier with him.”

Ballyandy was successful at Haydock 12 months ago
Ballyandy was successful at Haydock 12 months ago (Julian Herbert/PA)

Nigel Twiston-Davies feels Ballyandy will be no pushover as he bids to win this race for the second year running.

“Ballyandy has been a wonderful horse for us and we’re looking forward to seeing him run,” said the Naunton handler.

“He won the race last year on testing ground, so hopefully he can once again go close.

“He is taking on the returning Buveur D’Air but, given the ground and his form this season, we are hopeful of a good run. He came out of the Christmas Hurdle well and this has been the plan since.”

Navajo Pass has a bit to find on ratings, but trainer Donald McCain is happy to take his chance in such a small field.

“Obviously we’re up against it off 149, he’s just turned five,” said the Cheshire handler.

“We’ve nowhere to go unless we want to carry a huge weight in a handicap, which is what we were doing at the start of the season and couldn’t do it.

“I think two miles on this ground will be fine. I’ve got an owner (Tim Leslie) that’s prepared to take a punt, so we’ll see.

“He’s a nice horse, he’s probably next season’s horse in that sense. For last season’s juveniles this can be a tough year. He’s a smashing horse, he can only keep on improving and you can’t turn your back on a three-runner race at Haydock.”

Allart takes the next step in his chasing career
Allart takes the next step in his chasing career (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Henderson is looking forward to seeing how Allart fares in the Read Nicky Henderson’s Unibet Blog Novices’ Chase after he made a winning fencing debut.

“I thought he put up a good display at Ascot on his chasing debut where he got better as the race went on and it was very good education for him,” he said.

“He’s come out of that in very good form and has worked and schooled well since so this looks a good race for him and he goes there with an obvious favourite’s chance.”

Anthony Honeyball still has high hopes for Acey Milan in the Peter Marsh Handicap Chase, after his better-fancied contender Sam Brown was declared a late non-runner because of stiffness.

Acey Milan (right) is a second Peter Marsh challenger for Anthony Honeyball
Acey Milan (right) is a second Peter Marsh challenger for Anthony Honeyball (Andrew Matthews/PA)

Assessing Acey Milan’s chances, the Dorset trainer said: “He ran well over hurdles there last season and he’s won round Aintree first time out this season. I quite like the look of him on paper.

“The ground was a bit quick for him at Newbury, and I don’t know what happened at Plumpton. Nothing came to light after it.

“I’m hoping a flat track like Haydock with more runners is what he wants. I think he might be dangerous off 10st 4lb if everything is right with him. He could be an interesting contender off that weight.”

McCain is looking forward to stepping Minella Drama up to Grade Two company in the Sky Bet Supreme Trial Rossington Main Novices’ Hurdle.

The six-year-old is still learning his trade, but has won his last two starts after being runner-up to Llandinabo Lad on his hurdling debut.

McCain said: “He’s a grand horse, he’s a little bit raw still and a bit to learn.

“Two miles round there should be fine and this has been the target since Bangor.”

Llandinabo Lad, trained by Tom Symonds, reopposes, while the other three runners – Faivoir, Nada To Prada and Anythinforlove – won on their latest starts.

Buveur D’Air declared for Haydock return

Buveur D’Air will face just two rivals when he makes his comeback in The New One Unibet Hurdle at Haydock on Saturday.

The dual Champion Hurdle hero is in line for his eagerly-awaited return after being sidelined since he picked up a nasty injury to his hoof at Newcastle in November 2019.

The Nicky Henderson-trained 10-year-old had a six-inch splinter stuck in his foot when beaten in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle, requiring surgery.

Nicky Henderson has been encouraged by Buveur D'Air in recent weeks
Nicky Henderson has been encouraged by Buveur D’Air in recent weeks (Steven Paston/PA)

It has been a long road, but Buveur D’Air has been pleasing Henderson of late and is now ready to return to the fray.

The Grade Two contest sees him take on last year’s winner Ballyandy, from the Nigel Twiston-Davies stable, and Donald McCain’s Navajo Pass.

Royale Pagaille heads a field of 10 for the Peter Marsh Handicap Chase.

The Venetia Williams-trained seven-year-old relishes testing conditions and has registered convincing victories on this course and at Kempton this season.

Sam’s Adventure, trained by Brian Ellison, demonstrated his liking for a test of stamina when landing the Tommy Whittle Handicap Chase over course and distance last month.

Anthony Honeyball is two-handed with Sam Brown and Acey Milan. The latter is one of five horses running from outside the handicap. The others are Lamanver Pippin, Potters Legend, Just Your Type and Claud And Goldie.

Allart, a highly-promising winner on his fencing debut at Ascot last month, will be a warm order for the race carrying his trainer’s name, the Read Nicky Henderson’s Unibet Blog Novices’ Chase.

The seven-year-old is one of five declared for the Grade Two contest over two and a half miles.

The quartet of Empire Steel, Marown, Silber Hallmark and Galahad Quest should provide decent opposition.

The other Grade Two on the card is the Sky Bet Supreme Trial Rossington Main Novices’ Hurdle, which also has a field of five.

Tom Symonds saddles course and distance scorer Llandinabo Lad, while Michael Scudamore’s Nada To Prada took a Listed contest on this course last month.

Falvoir, Minella Drama and Anythingforlove complete the quintet.

Henderson making plans for Newbury and Sandown

Nicky Henderson reports Champ in good order for his belated return to competitive action at Newbury on February 13.

Last season’s Cheltenham Festival winner is unbeaten in four visits to the Berkshire track, and will be having his first outing since his eyecatching victory in the RSA Insurance Novices’ Chase, where he charged up the hill to deny Minella Indo.

Henderson said: “He is all set for the Denman Chase and we’re looking forward to it.”

With Haydock still under threat from the elements on Saturday, Henderson may have to reroute Buveur D’Air to the Contenders Hurdle at Sandown on February 6.

The former dual Champion Hurdler has not raced since a piece of wood from a hurdle became lodged in his hoof when beaten by Cornerstone Lad in last season’s Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle, requiring him to undergo surgery.

His trainer said: “It looks like we will have to forget Haydock and head to Sandown. It’s a race he’s won three times and it will be good to get him back.”

Buveur D’Air started 1-4 for the race in 2017, 1-16 in 2018 and 1-5 in 2019.

Buveur D’Air looks set to return in the Contenders Hurdle at Sandown
Buveur D’Air looks set to return in the Contenders Hurdle at Sandown (Simon Galloway/PA)

Back to Newbury and Henderson is readying a team of three in the Betfair Hurdle, headed by Buzz, who could end up with top-weight in the £125,000 contest.

The Seven Barrows handler will back up the Thurloe Thoroughbreds-owned gelding with Mister Coffey and the mare Marie’s Rock.

Henderson landed the prize for Thurloe syndicates with Sharpical in 1998l, as well as Geos in 2000 and 2004. He has an exemplary record in a race originally known as the Schweppes, and is pleased with this year’s challengers.

He said: “Buzz has always had the race on his radar, but after his good efforts this season will have to carry top-weight. He’s in good form and very well in himself.

“Marie’s Rock had been off for a while when she returned here in November and will all being well do some work on Saturday.

“Mister Coffey is in very good form and an intended runner.”

Buveur D’Air poised for Haydock return

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.

Nicky Henderson with dual Champion Hurdle hero Buveur D'Air
Nicky Henderson with dual Champion Hurdle hero Buveur D’Air (Steven Paston/PA)

“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.

Barry Geraghty celebrates victory in last year's Champion Hurdle with Epatante
Barry Geraghty celebrates victory in last year’s Champion Hurdle with Epatante (Tim Gode/PA)

“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.”