The JP McManus-owned Buveur D’Air (4/6f) became the first horse since Hardy Eustace in 2005 to defend the Unibet Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy as he held off Melon in Cheltenham’s Day One feature.
The favourite’s stable companion Charli Parcs had cut out the pace, firstly in the company of former champion Faugheen (4/1), and then on his own. Coming down the hill the Ruby Walsh-ridden Faugheen was to the fore, Noel Fehily was on his outside on Charlie Parcs, and Melon (7/1), looking as though he would be a serious challenger, just in behind.
Buveur D’Air (Barry Geraghty) and Faugheen went eyeball to eyeball in the latter stages of the race before the 2015 Champion Hurdler cried enough. His stable companion, Melon, then threw down a serious challenge to the reigning champion as they fought neck and neck up the home straight.
Just when Willie Mullins’ Melon looked to be getting the better of the French-bred Buveur D’Air, Nicky Henderson’s charge pulled out all the stops to cross the line half a length in front and provide Henderson with his seventh success in the 2m ½ furlong contest. Mick Jazz, a 25/1 shot was three lengths back in third, while Identity Thief (50/1) claimed fourth a further nine lengths behind.