All good things must come to an end. And so it was on Boxing Day at Kempton, where Buveur D’Air failed to add a twelfth to his unbeaten run, which stretched back to April 2016.
On a day when no favourite obliged, Nicky Henderson’s seven year old was the shortest price of them all. Starting at 1/4, there was nothing to suppose this would be anything other than a stepping stone to retaining the Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival. It was not only a surprise he got beaten, but ironic he should be chinned on the line by a stable companion in the form of Verdana Blue.
You could put it down to the mistake three from home, conceding 7lb to the winner or any number of factors, but frankly you could do a PhD on the subject and still be done the wiser. The reality is the photograph proves the supreme 2 mile hurdler lost by a short head.
Whilst winning jockey Nico de Boinville is never one to wear his heart on his sleeve, if anything looked thoroughly miserable in victory, perhaps thinking this wasn’t the script his boss had drafted. As one of the owners, Charlie Parker, said: “ I know the Trainer and jockey aren’t very happy as they think the’ve lost their jobs – but we’re very happy”.
One must never begrudge a horse or its connections a win, but Verdana Blue is being aimed at an all weather race at Lingfield on Good Friday, with one eye on the Melbourne Cup. Not a mention of Cheltenham. Also, if the bookies are right Buveur D’Air is a certainty to make it a hat trick of Champion Hurdle titles at March’s Festival. All of which leaves me feeling a bit empty about the defeat: I had in my mind that when the inevitable came it would be against a Prince who was a worthy inheritor of the throne and we could shout “The King is dead, long live the King”. As things stand Buveur D’Air had his Crown tilted a bit at Kempton, but looks unlikely to be deposed.
I know there are those who get a bit sniffy about Stayers’ Hurdles, but I have always been a fan. However, I have to accept it is a division that is currently lacking big names and looks short on talent. Maybe, just maybe, that might be about to change with the emergence of Paisley Park who won the Long Walk at Ascot on Saturday.
It was a race of incidents. Last year’s winner, Sam Spinner, made it clear at the first hurdle that he was in no mood for jumping, which was confirmed with a statement of intent at the second, where Joe Colliver was unseated. 2016 winner, Unowhatimeanharry, fresh from victory in Newbury’s Long Distance Hurdle looked for a while like he could continue to defy the years, but fell at the eighth.
At this stage and much like his impressive run at Haydock last month, Paisley Park hardly looked in the mix, but as in life, timing proved to be everything and when driven out after the last he won by two lengths from West Approach.
For the horse that was last of the thirteen finishers in the Albert Bartlett at Cheltenham in March, it’s now three from three this season. The first two came off top weight in Handicaps and the win at Haydock where he stole victory on the line after a bursting final furlong run, was as thrilling a finish as you could wish to witness.
As well as being an exciting horse to watch, there’s the back story with Saturday’s win providing trainer, Emma Lavelle, and jockey, Aidan Coleman with their first Grade 1 triumphs. I maybe guilty of supporting a horse primarily because I want to see three mile hurdles lit up by a new kid on the block, but 14/1 for the Stayers’ at Cheltenham has got to be tempting.
I once asked a good mate of mine for his view on hurdles vs chases. “Why drink white wine, when you can have red?” he replied; declaring himself firmly in the chasing camp. Well my dear friend, frankly red wine often leaves me with a headache and I don’t think you can beat a good Chardonnay.
Whist recent runnings of the Fighting Fifth might not be considered of the finest vintage, yesterday’s renewal of Newcastle’s Grade 1 showpiece was certainly one to wet the whistle. Last year’s winner and back to back Champion Hurdle victor Buveur D’Air lined up against Samcro, attempting to make it not so much a second as a third or fourth coming. Supreme Novices’ winner Summerville Boy went out to show what he could do in the major league, whilst Vision Des Flos looked to capitalise on a recent promising run at Aintree. Bleu Et Rouge completed the quintet and the fact he started at 100/1 with an official rating of 152, is a reflection on the quality field.
Samcro set the pace. Buveur D’Air didn’t look fluent, but when it came to the business end of the race and despite flattening the final hurdle, won with unnerving ease by 8 lengths. After so much expectation Tom George’s Summerville Boy could only manage a disappointing fourth
Having conquered all, Buveur D’Air hasn’t always received the recognition he deserves and this was evidenced by him starting off odds against with the great pretender, Samcro, favourite. He must surely now be recognised as the outstanding hurdler of his generation, as he heads for a third Champion Hurdle title. It’s hard to see where the competition will come from.
Samcro trainer Gordon Elliott conceded after the race that there were ‘No excuses’, before adding ‘He’s been beaten by a very, very good horse’. The decision not to send the six year old chasing is now looking like an indulgence by owners Gigginstown, in the desire to add a Champion Hurdle to one of the few empty spaces in their trophy cabinet. Despite all the set backs, Elliott confirmed the Champion Hurdle remains the destination.
The sad postscript to the race was the fatal injury to JP McManus’ Bleu Et Rouge, making it a bitter sweet day for the owner whose colours were also worn by Buveur D’Air.