Nicky Henderson's decision to switch Buveur D'Air back to timber reaped an instant reward when the six-year-old earned a quote of 5-1 for the Champion Hurdle after toying with the opposition in the Betfred Contenders Hurdle at Sandown yesterday.
Henderson could not have found an easier trial if he tried and, in that respect, it was not overly informative with the Champion Hurdle in mind except that, with his novice-hurdle form from last season, Buveur D'Air is a player and, were it to come up testing like it was yesterday, a serious player.
But it confirmed to the trainer that abandoning the gelding's nascent novice chase career, in which he was two from two, was the right thing to do particularly as the Champion Hurdle has, one way or another, started to fall apart at the seams. Last year's winner Annie Power is out for the season while Faugheen, the favourite, will go straight there without a run for 14 months.
Indeed, with Brain Power, who will not have another race before the big day, Henderson is looking like he has a pretty reasonable hand as he seeks a record sixth Champion Hurdle, though he steadfastly refused to rank the pair.
"What we did learn is that he might be a sharper hurdler than he is a chaser," said the trainer. "He can get a length at his hurdles and he can't do that over his fences. He's also pacy. You can't win any easier than that so you can take it he will be going for the Champion Hurdle now rather than the Arkle.
"I can't split them, although according to the ratings, Brain Power is the better horse. He worked beautifully with Altior this morning." The trainer also had news of Might Bite, the novice who was 12 lengths clear of Royal Vacation in the Kauto Star when he fell at the last. "He's only just come back to himself but he might go for a graduation chase at Kempton on Friday," he said.
It was a fine day for the trainer and his Cheltenham preparations. Top Notch's smooth victory in the Betfred Scilly Isles Novice Chase, his fourth on the bounce, sorted out his target, the JLT instead of the Arkle, after he stayed the two-and-a -half miles well. "It's all about confidence," said Henderson about the small gelding. "When we went chasing it was an experiment. I know people don't like them but we found him a couple of four-horse races and now he's winging round there like he could do it in his sleep."
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