Henderson: 'Buveur' will be better at this year's Festival
Much of the Champion Hurdle talk surrounds Gordon Elliott's wonder mare Apple's Jade but Nicky Henderson expects reigning champion Buveur D'Air to be a different horse when lining up three weeks from today at Cheltenham.
The hat-trick-seeking Buveur D'Air (7/4 favourite) - which would emulate Henderson's See You Then by landing the famous three-timer - was pushed to the pin of his collar by Willie Mullins' Melon in last year's renewal.
The UK champion trainer acknowledges that the JP McManus-owned eight-year-old - which was surprisingly beaten by stablemate Verdana Blue over Christmas - was not his usual self 12 months ago but feels he will be stronger than ever next month.
"I'll tell you why. He lives in a box next to We Have A Dream and on the morning before the race (last year), We Have A Dream had a screaming temperature. Buveur D'Air is tough as teak, but he did not get over Cheltenham," Henderson said.
"It took him apart. He'll have to be better than last year because I'm sure it's a better race. I don't say that he's 10lb better, but I hope he is."
Apple's Jade (2/1) and Mullins' Laurina (7/1) - both of which will be in receipt of the 7lb mares' allowance - will throw down the gauntlet to Buveur D'Air in what could be one of the races of the Festival.
The Champion Chase looks a one-horse race, however, with Henderson's Altior (2/5 favourite) bidding for a fourth Festival success with the Mullins trio Min (5/1), Footpad (6/1) and Un De Sceaux (10/1) next best depending on which one lines up.
Altior is undefeated in his 12 starts over fences but Henderson knows that streak can't go on forever.
"We've come in on a different strategy this year, because he was fit and well, and now he's had a nice break and so is coming in nice and fresh," the Seven Barrows handler said.
"It will be disappointing if it goes wrong, but you're prepared for it.
"He can't go on forever. I know Winx can, but she's different. It's got to happen somewhere, I just hope it doesn't happen in the Champion Chase."