Nicky Henderson is confident Buveur D’Air can bounce back from his early exit at Cheltenham and claim a second victory in the Betway Aintree Hurdle.
The eight-year-old lined up at Prestbury Park bidding to become the sixth horse in history to win a third Champion Hurdle – and the first since another JP McManus-owned star in the great Istabraq.
However, Buveur D’Air came to grief at the third flight – and heads to Merseyside on a retrieval mission as a result.
Speaking in his Unibet blog, Henderson said: “Obviously he had a fall – and it wasn’t a very nice fall. It is the first time he has ever done anything like that.
“He is such a fantastic hurdler, but he does take it to the bare limit. It is very low, it is very fast – but when you cut it to that lowness, that pinpoint accuracy, you only have to be half a millimetre out. It is the difference between brilliant and a fall.
“Unfortunately he got one wrong and he fell in what looked to be a very winnable Champion Hurdle.
“We are going up half a mile, but that doesn’t worry me – he has won this race before (in 2017).
“He seems in good form, and I think he comes in here with a big chance.”
Henderson also saddles Brain Power and the only mare in the nine-strong field – Verdana Blue.
It is three years since Willie Mullins claimed his first Aintree Hurdle with the great mare Annie Power, and this season the Closutton maestro fires a twin assault – with Ruby Walsh on board Faugheen and Paul Townend partnering Melon.
Faugheen finished third in the Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham last month, while Melon filled the runner-up spot in the Champion Hurdle for the second year in succession.
“I thought both horses ran well in Cheltenham and I’ve been happy with them since,” said Mullins.
“I suppose Melon’s run to finish second in the Champion Hurdle is probably the better piece of form, and on the evidence of that run two and a half miles should be good for him.
“Faugheen shouldn’t have any problem with the trip. He was going very well at that trip in Cheltenham.”
Jessica Harrington’s Supasundae is a third Irish challenger. He filled the runner-up spot behind Henderson’s L’Ami Serge in this race 12 months ago.
Silver Streak produced what was arguably a career-best performance to finish third in the Champion Hurdle, but trainer Evan Williams admits there are doubts about his stamina as he steps up to two and a half miles for the first time.
He said: “We’ve been happy with him since Cheltenham. I can’t say this was the plan – but it’s a big race with great prize-money, and we’re willing to give it a go.
“I don’t know if he will stay. He’s never been two-and-a-half before, and he’s never struck me as a horse who would want that sort of trip, but until you give it a go you never know.
“After running so well at Cheltenham, this was the obvious place to go.”
Dan Skelton’s County Hurdle hero Ch’tibello and the Tom George-trained Summerville Boy complete the line-up.