Buveur D’Air will have to raise his game again if he is to land a record-equalling third consecutive Unibet Champion Hurdle, according to trainer Nicky Henderson.
The JP McManus-owned gelding would become just the sixth horse in the history of the two-mile championship to be victorious three times should he lift the Grade One prize on March 12.
Henderson – who sent out See You Then to claim three consecutive runnings between 1985 and 1987 – said: “I do think he has to pull out more. He has to be better than last year, because I think it is a better race than last year.
“The opposition appears to be in Ireland. Apple’s Jade looked very good and it will be interesting to see Laurina, how she runs this week (at Punchestown on Wednesday).
“I still think he is the one to beat if all goes well between now and then. At least he has had that run at Sandown, as he does take an awful lot of work.
“Barry (Geraghty) said he felt fantastic at Newcastle (in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle).
“Two miles on fast ground round Kempton (Christmas Hurdle), we got caught out a little bit and Nico (de Boinville) got a lovely run round in his slipstream and she (Verdana Blue, stablemate and winner) does have a serious turn of foot.”
Buveur D’Air made hard work of winning by a neck 12 months ago, and Henderson shed light as to why that might have been.
Speaking before the press on a pre-Cheltenham trip to his Seven Barrows yard on Monday, Henderson said: “I don’t think he was at his best on the day, and I tell you for why.
“He lived in a box next to We Have A Dream and on the Monday his temperature was screaming. They lived absolutely nose to nose.
“Buveur D’Air is as tough as teak and he didn’t get over Cheltenham. He wasn’t impressive in the Champion Hurdle and I think it took him apart. It gave us a scare.
“He didn’t take Cheltenham well last year. He won it with a certain amount of ability and quite a lot of guts as well.”
Henderson will also be represented by Buveur D’Air’s Christmas Hurdle conqueror Verdana Blue and Brain Power.
He said: “With Verdana Blue good ground is essential. She is one of the most frustrating losses we have had as she was meant to run in the fast-track qualifier at Kempton on Saturday.
“That would have been her prep race for Cheltenham and it would have qualified her for the £200,000 race on Good Friday and now she is not eligible. To be denied that is cruel. She is fine and will run.
“Brain Power was very good at Cheltenham. That’s the way to ride him and that’s the way to travel him and good ground helps him.
“He is in great form and I’d like to have a racecourse gallop with him. He is rather forgotten.
“I know he won an International and it probably wasn’t a brilliant contest, but it was one of the better ones in Britain.”