Buveur D’Air got back on the winning trail with a comprehensive success in the Betdaq Punchestown Champion Hurdle.
Nicky Henderson’s dual winner of the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham had questions to answer on his Irish debut having fallen when bidding to become the sixth horse to win a third two-mile hurdling crown at Prestbury Park before finding Supasundae too strong in the Aintree Hurdle.
With Davy Russell taking over in the saddle after Mark Walsh suffered an injury earlier in afternoon, 2-1 joint-favourite Buveur D’Air travelled strongly throughout the two-mile contest and loomed ominously into the slipstream of Petit Mouchoir rounding the home turn.
Once given his head, the JP McManus-owned eight-year-old soon asserted and was good value for the winning margin of two and a half lengths.
Last year’s winner Supasundae was doing his best work at the finish in second, with Wicklow Brave – winner of this event in 2017 – also making late gains in third.
The other joint-favourite – Apple’s Jade – again failed to run up to her best following defeats at Cheltenham and Aintree.
Henderson said: “It’s great to see him finish the year back to his absolute best.
“He started the year in the Fighting Fifth and everyone thought he was going to be unbeatable, and so did I. Then we went and beat him with Verdana Blue of our own which was a bit of a shock, and then he went and fell in the Champion Hurdle, which knocked him sideways a bit.
“It was a good race in Liverpool when Supasundae beat us, and I just said to Jessie (Harrington) that I hope she feeds us tonight!
“It was a proper race, which suits him. Davy was always going to suit the horse as he lets them get on with it.
“We can go to the summer now and look forward to next year. He’s the one that they all have to beat again.”
“I’m delighted to have gotten the opportunity to ride him,” said Russell.
“I’ve been lucky to get the opportunity to ride for Nicky Henderson over the last couple of years and you don’t really realise the master he is until you ride for him.
“He was very confident in the horse today, so we all grew in confidence with that behind us.
“Obviously these are big days and we need to cherish them. It’s great to get the opportunity to ride these very good horses.
“There are not many Buveur D’Airs around and I’m just really proud to have gotten the opportunity to ride him.”