Buveur D'Air: always thought of as a Champion Hurdle prospectPICTURE: Edward Whitaker (racingpost.com/photos)
Henderson looks to three 'live' Champion hopefuls
NICKY HENDERSON will no doubt raise a glass to absent friends at Cheltenham in 20 days' time, but after parading his formidable festival firepower at his Lambourn yard on Wednesday, the meeting's winningmost trainer appears to have a team worthy of emulating the Seven Barrows stars of yesteryear.
Tears have already been shed for the recently retired Sprinter Sacre and ill-fated Simonsig, yet there can be no denying the strength in depth to this year's squad, which is rich in youth and quality.
Among his 55 wins at the festival, Henderson boasts five Champion Hurdle victories and he has "three live chances" to move one clear of Peter Easterby as the most successful trainer in the opening-day showstopper.
Bookmakers make Buveur D'Air general 3-1 favourite for the Stan James-backed contest but Henderson warned there is little between him and Brain Power, with ground conditions set to play their part.
"The one thing you could say is there's a ground situation," he said. "Buveur D'Air would love it soft and Brain Power would love it good. We all know it's going to be good to soft or softer on day one. If it goes soft it's in Buveur D'Air's favour and against the other two."
'No indication' from Geraghty
Despite Buveur D'Air's position at the head of the market, Barry Geraghty has a tough call on whether to ride Henderson's horse or second favourite Yanworth, trained by Alan King and also owned by his boss JP McManus.
Paddy Power quote 4-6 Geraghty rides Buveur D'Air and 11-10 Yanworth - and 20-1 any other horse.
"Barry's given me no indication whatsoever," said Henderson. "I hope David Mullins will ride Brain Power and I'd think it's between Buveur D'Air and Yanworth for Barry.
"There's a possibility Noel Fehily would ride Buveur D'Air. He rode him all last year and always said he'd win the Champion Hurdle. It must be a possibility but that's up to Barry. It's not a problem from my point of view."
'I always thought he was a Champion Hurdle horse'
Buveur D'Air, third to Altior in last year's Supreme, started the season with two novice chase wins but Henderson felt there was unfinished business over hurdles.
His Champion Hurdle chance has been only enhanced by injuries to Annie Power and Faugheen, winners of the past two Champion Hurdles.
"He worked well this morning," said Henderson. "If you take it strictly on Sandown then he doesn't deserve to be favourite but we've just got to do our own thing.
"I've always thought he was a Champion Hurdle horse. The change from fences wasn't totally because of what was happening within the Champion Hurdle picture.
"Yes Annie Power going makes you think but I said to Barry before Cheltenham [trials day] that this horse needs to come back into the Champion Hurdle, whatever happens to Faugheen the following day.
"Within half an hour of me saying that Faugheen was out [of the Irish Champion Hurdle]. I was adamant he needed to run in it."