Not alone did Nicky Henderson win his seventh Unibet Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham today, Irish owner J P McManus matched Henderson in also claiming his seventh victory in the opening day feature event.
Limerick man McManus previously won the two-mile championship with Istabraq (1998-2000), Binocular (2010), Jezki (2014) and Buveur D’Air last year.
Reacting to his horse retaining his Unibet Champion Hurdle, JP McManus stated:
“That was fun! It was good to see Barry and Paul battling it out. Paul has enormous strength, but Barry held on – they are two great jockeys and both looked very strong in the finish. I was worrying for a while, and I knew we had a battle on our hands.
“I thought we would need a good one [going to the last hurdle] and I felt the other fella got away from it quicker. Melon maybe went a neck up on us, and I was glad to have Barry on my side.
“Buveur D’Air is just about the best around. He beat Melon by a neck and there was not a lot between them today – but enough, which counts! Last year we came here more in hope, and this time there were expectations, although I was worried about the ground. It’s not all horses that can act well on this soft to heavy going.
Thinking back on his previous Champion Hurdle winners, Cheltenham Festival’s leading owner of all time, winning his 53rd race at National Hunt racing’s premier meeting, commented:
“It’s very special to win any race at The Festival, and it’s even better to win one of the championship races. All my winners were special on the day – Binocular seemed like the second coming at the time, Jezki was good – it’s just so hard to compare them.
“When Istabraq won it was a very emotional day because of the death of John Durkan, who bought the horse and without whose input I would never have owned him. It was emotional for a lot of reasons, and there were tears and joy and a wonderful occasion, and when we think of Istabraq we always think of John.”