On the opening day of the 2019 Cheltenham Festival, Buveur d’Air attempted to join an elite group to have landed a hat-trick of Champion Hurdle victories.
Nicky Henderson’s star faced arguably his toughest challenge yet, with two highly-regarded mares in Apple’s Jade and Laurina holding a 7lb advantage over the reigning champion.
But the hopes of a third straight success were ended as soon as they started, as Buveur d’Air came crashing down at the third hurdle falling for the first (and only) time in his career.
However, the then eight-year-old jumped straight back up, with Henderson comically saying ‘He nearly won the race but unfortunately there’s a rule that says you have to have a jockey on top.’
It would be the late Espoir D’Allen that would produce an upset in the race, giving Gavin Cromwell his first Cheltenham Festival success.
It was expected that Buveur d’Air would bounce back at the first attempt in the Aintree Hurdle a month later.
However, he couldn’t justify short-odds favouritism as he failed to get the better of Jessica Harrington’s Supasundae in the closing stages and had to settle for second.
Henderson’s talented gelding did not have wait long to get revenge and get back into the winners’ enclosure, as he reversed the result across the Irish Sea in the Punchestown Champion Hurdle.
As it stands, that is the last time that that the seven-time Grade 1 winner has recorded success.
Disaster would strike on the gelding’s next run, as Buveur d’Air suffered a serious splinter injury on his seasonal reappearance in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle.
The 2/13 favourite managed to take second, with news of his injury emerging after the race.
The freak accident ruled him out for the remainder of the 2019/20 season, which resulted with a 420-day absence from the racetrack for the star.
The 10-year-old made his anticipated return at Haydock in late January, in the New One Unibet Hurdle.
But it did not go as planned, as Navajo Pass made all to win by 4 ¼ lengths, with Henderson’s returning star taking second.
That result effectively ended Buveur d’Air’s hopes of regaining his Champion Hurdle, as the decision was made to swerve the Cheltenham Festival for a crack at the Aintree Hurdle the following month.
Henderson announced the news via Twitter, stating ‘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.’
The gelding last won the Grade 1 contest back as a six-year-old in 2017 and if he is back to his best, he could well roll back the years with another top-grade victory under his belt.
There are question marks over his age and whether he still has the ability after a long period of time out, but Buveur d’Air has the chance to silence his doubters next month at the Grand National Festival.