The Champion Hurdle is the feature race on day one of the Festival and in Buveur d’Air there would appear to be a worthy favourite.
Having won the race in fine style aboard the Nicky Henderson trained mount last year Meath native, Barry Geraghty will be hoping for another royal welcome to the winners enclose at around 3.40 on Tuesday.
Should that be the case, Buveur d’Air will have joined an illustrious club, with the classy Hardy Eustace winning back-to-back Champion Hurdle crowns in 2004 and 2005 respectively.
The McManus owned seven-year-old has won all four starts since last year’s festival and will be aiming to secure his tenth straight win on Tuesday, having not tasted defeat since finishing third behind Altior at Cheltenham in 2016.
On paper it would seem that the other runners in the race will be battling it out for some place money, however, the memory of the seemingly indispensable Douvan being beaten at last year’s festival at odds of 2/9, may provide some hope for those with connections to the other raiders.
It seems strange to see Faugheen, a former champion hurdler who was once dubbed “Faugheen the machine” available at odds at 6/1. Having won the Morgianna Hurdle at Punchestown in November on his first start since January 2016, optimism was high that the Faugheen of old had returned.
The buoyancy was to be short-lived, however, with the now ten-year-old being pulled up on his next start.
A much-improved showing when finishing second to Stayers Hurdle favourite, Supasundae at Leopardstown last month may well have been sufficient for some punters to place their trust in him once more at a price of 6/1. Mullins has opted to fit Faugheen with cheek pieces on this occasion in the hope that the sheepskin strips will keep the horse focused by partly obscuring his rear vision.
Mullins is heavy-handed in this year’s race with Melon and Yorkhill and Wicklow Brave also taking their chances. Wicklow Brave finished seventh in this race last year when any chance appeared to be blown in the early part of the contest.
His last outing came on the flat in the Melbourne Cup, finishing tenth behind the Joseph O’Brien trained Rekindling. He did, however, get the better of My Tent Or Yours at Punchestown last April.
While Yorkhill undoubtedly possesses a fair bit of ability, he is proving more and more frustrating with time having failed to win any of his three starts since last year’s festival, finishing outside first three on two of those occasions.
However, having won the JLT Novices Chase at Prestbury Park last term, the Yorkhill fan club will be clinging onto the hope that the Cheltenham hill will draw the best from the Andrea and Graham Wylie owned charge who is two from two at the festival.
In the shape of Melon, Mullins has a smart sort who went off favourite for last year’s festival opener only to finish second to Labaik on one of the few days the talented Elliott team member felt like racing.
Melon has been beaten favourite on three of the four subsequent start. One of those saw him finish third behind My Tent Or Yours at Cheltenham in December.
It was of little surprise to many to see My Tent or Yours outstaying both Melon and The New One in that race such is his consistency at the venue. Currently 16/1 it is comforting to know on the back of that win that soft ground will not be a problem for the horse who has never finished outside of the first two at the track.
Three of those six runs were in the Champion Hurdle, with the gelding finishing behind Buveur d’Air, Annie Power and Jezki on those occasions.
Gordon Elliott and Henry de Bromhead have put forward the other Irish hopes for the contest in the form of Grade one winning Mick Jazz and Identity Thief respectively.