The reigning champion Buveur D’Air is among 27 entries for the Grade 1 Unibet Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham on Tuesday, March 12th 2019.
Nicky Henderson’s charge has won the two most recent renewals of the two-mile hurdling championship, worth £450,000, and is trying to become the sixth three-time winner of the Unibet Champion Hurdle since the race’s inception in 1927.
Buveur D’Air, successful in 11 of his 13 starts over hurdles, looked as good as ever on his comeback this term when easily beating Gigginstown House Stud’s Samcro by eight lengths in the Grade 1 Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle in December last.
However, he suffered a shock short-head defeat at the hands of stablemate Verdana Blue in the Grade 1 Unibet Christmas Hurdle at Kempton Park on St. Stephen’s Day.
Nicky Henderson, with seven successes, has the best record of any trainer in the history of the Unibet Champion Hurdle. The six-strong team from Britain’s champion jumps trainer also features Grade 2 Unibet International Hurdle victor Brain Power, Call Me Lord, Charli Parcs and We Have A Dream, a leading juvenile last season.
Ireland’s champion National Hunt trainer Willie Mullins is responsible for five of the 12 Irish-trained entries, with his quintet headed by last year’s neck runner-up Melon and rising star Laurina, a facile 18-length winner of the Grade 2 Dawn Run Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham 2018.
Mullins’ brigade also includes Galway Hurdle winner Sharjah, who has tasted Grade 1 success at both Punchestown and Leopardstown. The Closutton trainer also has Cilaos Emery and Saldier entered.
Gordon Elliott has Samcro (now unlikely to make Cheltenham) and outstanding racemare Apple’s Jade among his four entries. Last season’s JCB Triumph Hurdle hero Farclas and Tombstone are also engaged for the Co. Meath trainer.
Gavin Cromwell could have his first Unibet Champion Hurdle runner courtesy of Espoir D’Allen, who like Buveur D’Air is owned by JP McManus, the most successful owner in Unibet Champion Hurdle history with seven victories.
The remaining Irish-trained entries are the two most recent winners of the Grade 1 Irish Champion Hurdle in Jessica Harrington’s Supasundae and Petit Mouchoir from Henry de Bromhead’s yard.