Buveur D'Air retains his Champion Hurdle crown, but only just

Buveur D'Air retains his Champion Hurdle crown, but only just

Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh combined for their first victor at this year's Festival with 6-to-5-on favourite Footpad claiming the Arkle.

Odds-on favourite Buveur d'Air has claimed the Champion Hurdle - the feature race on day one of the Cheltenham Festival. They've gone a gallop there you wouldn't believe they would keep up in that ground and they have quickened again all the way up the hill.

Lizzie Kelly enjoyed her first taste of Festival success with Coo Star Sivola in the Ultima Handicap Chase, whilst Mister Whitaker won for former footballer, turned trainer, Mick Channon. He proved there he was a better horse than he was past year.

Geraghty, who had to miss last year's Festival through injury, said: "It's real winter conditions, very tacky down the back straight - as it's opened up it's become harder work".

"I thought Melon was going to beat me".

Henderson, saddling his seventh Champion Hurdle victor, said: "It was a good race, a proper race". It became even better for Mullins when his son Patrick steered Rathvinden to a thrilling victory in the National Hunt Chase.

And it was local trainer Tom George - based around 15 miles away at Slad - who triumphed in the opening Supreme Novices' Hurdle as Summerville Boy (9-1) denied Kalashnikov in a thrilling finish. It was reaffirmation of the form of January's Grade One Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown when the two protagonists were first and second respectively.

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The consolation is that the giant horse should make a superb chaser.

Further evidence of the prowess of the aforementioned Hughes, it also vindicated the judgement of Henrietta Knight whose Best Mate won three successive Cheltenham Gold Cups.

"The second horse is a good horse", said veteran handler Henderson after sending out yet another victor from his Seven Barrows yard near Lambourn, southern England. It's the first horse I bought for Tim since Terry died and it's such a thrill. It's just magic. Brian was just ideal with him. "I've not had a talk to JP (McManus) to see what anybody wants to do, but as long as there's some soft ground around he could run". I saw him jump and I just loved the horse.

"I'm delighted with him as it's vindicated what we have always thought about him".

"After she'd won her first race for us we did a couple of pieces of work and I texted Rich to say she was like "Benie Des Douvan" - that was the vibe she was giving us".

He has been an FA Cup victor, one of England's best-known footballers and also landed some of Flat racing's biggest contests.

"I wasn't anxious about the ground for him, lots of other horses would have been suited by better ground".

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