Dual champion Buveur D’Air was a hugely impressive winner of the BetVictor Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle.
Nicky Henderson’s seven-year-old handed out an eight-length beating to Irish challenger Samcro, who was backed into 6-5 favourite marginally ahead of him but in the end was no match for the Barry Geraghty-ridden winner.
Buveur D’Air has therefore taken his unbeaten run to 11, dating back to April 2016 and including the last two editions of the Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.
Henderson was a nervous onlooker from Newbury, where he said: “I think it was relief more than anything. After the bloody nose with Might Bite (Betfair Chase) last Saturday, I was prepared for a second one.
“That was an incredible performance. He doesn’t make mistakes, then he makes one at the last, but he picked up. There is so much more improvement in him.
“Last year’s Fighting Fifth was a penalty kick. They went a proper gallop, which was no surprise as they tried to stretch his fitness. They were testing me really.
“I thought it was very smooth and slick. He looked like a true champion. He is what he is – a two-time Champion Hurdle winner. Some people haven’t rated him as a dual Champion Hurdle winner – I think today those are two good horses.
“He wasn’t at his best in last year’s Champion Hurdle, he didn’t go to Aintree or anywhere else after it, it knocked him around. I don’t think he was right at the time, and it’s great to see him come back and do that.”
Assessing future plans, the Seven Barrows trainer said: “I can’t see why he won’t do Christmas Hurdle, somewhere and you know where in March – the dream is still alive.”
Geraghty said: “Samcro set a nice even pace and I thought he would have made it more of a test.
“He’s very good – he’s a dual Champion Hurdle winner, I only rode him in one of those, but any horse who wins two Champion Hurdles deserves respect and he’s winning everywhere he goes. He is top class and a pleasure to ride.
“You’d like to think the wind op made a difference, it was far more of a test today, but he got into a good rhythm so it was great.”
Proud owner JP McManus said: “That was pleasing. I have an awful lot of respect for Samcro, so I was hoping he’d do that. Barry seemed to be happy enough all the way.
“Nicky gave him the wind op in the summer and says that helped him enormously. I didn’t back him, I was just happy to see him win.
“Istabraq was a different generation, so I wouldn’t like to compare them. Istabraq was very special to me and so is Buveur D’Air.
“He’s such an electric jumper, magic over them.”
Gordon Elliott was magnanimous in defeat and said of Samcro: “The best won. No matter what tactics we tried, that would have been the result. I’m still going to train him for the Champion Hurdle, we can’t back down now.”
When asked how Samcro could find the eight lengths he was beaten, Elliott said: “A miracle. Listen, we’ll need an awful lot of luck, but we decided we’d train him for the Champion and that is what we’ll do.
“We came over here to try to take him on and he just showed how good he is. Buveur D’Air was excellent and we’ve no excuses.”
Tom George said of the well-beaten Summerville Boy: “This time last year he was beaten at Stratford, so all is not lost yet.”