The two market leaders for the 2018 Champion Hurdle featured in prep races for the Festival at the weekend, with Buveur D’air running at Sandown on Saturday and Faugheen attempting to restore his reputation in the Irish equivalent at Leopardstown on the same day. It was a tale of contrasting fortunes for the two horses.
Buveur D’air at the Race
Buveur D’air faced just opponents in the two miles Jack Berry House Contenders Hurdle, and he was forced to set the early pace.
The main challenger was rated 13lb inferior to the current Champion hurdler, but was never allowed by the favourite to claim a commanding lead.
Barry Geraghty always appeared comfortable on Buveur D’air and was hoping to win with the minimum of effort. It appeared that would be the case as they jumped the final hurdle, but as John Constable briefly threatened, the champion responded to urgings and changed gear in winning by a comfortable margin.
Trainer Nicky Henderson later revealed that his gelding needed a race as he requires plenty of work at home, but his victory at Sandown was no better than a racecourse gallop and he was not seriously tested.
Later in the day, Henderson would have been heartened with news that Champion Hurdle second favourite Faugheen was beaten by Supasundae at Leopardstown, with the winner an expected contender for the Stayers Hurdle.
Faugheen Dominating the Race
Faugheen was returning to the track following a tame effort at the same course during the Christmas Festival where he was eventually pulled-up. No concrete evidence emerged for that flop, but the Willie Mullins horse appeared to have recovered as he dominated the early stages of Saturday’s race.
The 2015 Champion Hurdle winner was eventually outstayed by Supasundae, as he appeared to his usual finishing sparkle.
Connections of Faugheen were disappointed, but the display was a big improvement on his Christmas performance and it would be unwise to discount his chances of regaining the hurdle crown in March. He may have just needed that race on Saturday, although his ageing years are a negative factor.