Buveur d'Air is a two-time winner of the Champion Hurdle.
The Champion Hurdle is one of the biggest betting events of the entire Cheltenham Festival, and the market regularly changes throughout the season. Make sure you keep your eyes peeled on horseracing.net for expert views and analysis on the 2020 Champion Hurdle as the picture becomes clearer.
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What is the Champion Hurdle?
The Champion Hurdle is the feature race on the first day of the Cheltenham Festival, Champion Day, which is traditionally held on a Tuesday in March. A Grade One contest, the Champion Hurdle is run on the old course over a distance of two miles and 87 yards, and its roll of honour features several well-known names, including Istabraq, See You Then and Persian War.
What happened in the 2019 Champion Hurdle?
As mentioned above, Buveur d’Air was the dominant force in the hurdling division heading into the 2018-19 season, having won the Champion Hurdle in both 2017 and 2018. However, despite a vintage performance to win the Fighting Fifth on reappearance in December, chinks in the armour began to appear, and he suffered a shock defeat to stablemate Verdana Blue in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton on his next start. Buveur d’Air would win in his warm up for the race at Sandown in February, but his quest for a third straight Champion Hurdle success would ultimately end in anti-climatic fashion, when departing at the third flight. This, along with the below-par showing of the hot favourite Apple’s Jade, opened the door to an outsider, and it was 16/1 shot Espoir D’Allen who came out on top, romping clear to defeat the Willie Mullins-trained Melon by 15 lengths.
The Champion Hurdle was first run in 1927, with the Bill Payne-trained Blaris taking the inaugural crown. The race quickly grew in popularity, and flourished in the immediate post-war period, with just three horses - National Spirit, Hatton’s Grace and Sir Ken - sharing the crown between them from 1947-1954. The seventies would also prove to be a golden era for hurdling, with Persian War sealing a third straight win in the race in 1970, before Bula, Comedy of Errors, Night Nurse and Monksfield would all go on to become dual-winners of the race in the same decade. The eighties would prove to be just as significant, with Sea Pigeon completing a double in 1981, and Dawn Run becoming just the second mare to win the race in 1984, before winning the Cheltenham Gold Cup two years later - she remains the only horse to complete that particular double.
See You Then was another marquee figure from that decade, winning three straight renewals from 1985-1987, something which was matched at the turn of the century by the great Istabraq, whose wins came in 1998, 1999 and 2000. Istabraq would be robbed of the chance to complete an unprecedented four-timer in 2001 due to the foot and mouth crisis, and he would be retired when pulled-up in the race a year later. More recently, Hurricane Fly became the first horse to regain the Champion Hurdle when winning the race for a second time in 2013, while Buveur d’Air won back to back renewals in 2017 and 2018 for Nicky Henderson, before being denied the hat-trick by fellow J.P. McManus horse Espoir D’Allen in 2019.
Who is the most iconic winner of Champion Hurdle?
Like in many of the races at the Cheltenham Festival, a case can be made for several Champion Hurdle winners as the greatest of all time, though it is difficult to ignore the Aidan O’Brien-trained Istabraq. An outstanding novice, Istabraq won the Royal Sun Alliance Novices’ Hurdle in 1997 (now known as the Ballymore), and quickly took control of the two-mile division the following season, winning four straight starts before winning his first Champion Hurdle crown in 1998. Istabraq’s remarkable winning run came to an end on his next start in the Aintree Hurdle, but that start came in atrocious conditions, and he quickly regained the winning thread, winning the Champion Hurdle for the second year running the following season, before completing the hat-trick in 2000 - becoming just the fifth horse to do so. Istabraq was robbed of the chance to seal an unprecedented four-timer in 2001 due to the foot and mouth crisis, and although his career would end with a whimper in the 2002 Champion Hurdle - when pulled-up, he bowed out as a true hurdling great regardless.
There are several trials for the Champion Hurdle throughout the season, though the most important are considered to be the Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle and the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton. Other races to note during the season are the Elite Hurdle and the Kingwell Hurdle (both at Wincanton), the Ascot Hurdle, the Champion Hurdle Trial (Haydock), the Contenders Hurdle (Sandown), the Betfair Hurdle (Newbury), and the Greatwood Hurdle and the International Hurdle (both at Cheltenham). Over in Ireland, it could be worth keeping an eye on the WKD Hurdle (Down Royal), the Morgiana Hurdle (Punchestown), the Hatton's Grace Hurdle (Fairyhouse), the Red Mills Hurdle (Gowran Park) and the Ryanair Hurdle and the Irish Champion Hurdle (both at Leopardstown).
Who is the most successful jockey in the Champion Hurdle?
The joint-most successful jockeys in the history of the Champion Hurdle are Tim Molony and Ruby Walsh, with four wins apiece. The latter’s wins in the race came with Hurricane Fly (2011 and 2013), Faugheen (2015) and Annie Power (2016), while Tim Molony won the Champion Hurdle with Hatton’s Grace (1951) and Sir Ken (1952, 1953, 1954).
Who is the most successful trainer in the Champion Hurdle?
The most successful trainer in the history of the Champion Hurdle is Nicky Henderson, who won the race on seven occasions occasions, training See You Then (1985, 1986, 1987), Punjabi (2009), Binocular (2010) and Buveur d’Air (2017 & 2018).