Buveur D'Air forced to dig deep to retain Champion crown

Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh combined for their first victor at this year's Festival with 6-to-5-on favourite Footpad claiming the Arkle.

Nicky Henderson saddled Buveur D'Air to become the first horse to win back-to-back Champion Hurdles since Hardy Eustace in 2005 - but it was a mighty close-run thing. A first back-to-back victor of this race since Hardy Eustace.

Day 1 at Cheltenham saw Buveur d'Air win a pulsating Champion Hurdle race, and on day 2 there's no less than seven races to look forward to, headlined by the Queen Mother Champion Chase at 15.30pm GMT.

The Gordon Elliott-trained Mick Jazz (25/1) was three lengths further back in third; the first three clear.

Sam Spinner, trained in North Yorkshire, and Irish Champion Hurdle hero Supasundae are among 17 horses declared for tomorrow's Sun Bets Stayers' Hurdle.

"That is what happens when you've got two great jockeys and two courageous horses".

Buveur D'Air had to show courage to go with his undoubted class to successfully defend his crown in the Unibet Champion Hurdle. "He's a really good young horse and he did what he needed".

McManus said: "I'm keeping up with Nicky!"

Last year's victor Cause Of Causes is the 11-4 favourite. I'm thrilled as Barry missed out last year and whilst Noel gave him a great ride last year, it was nice that Barry was involved and got to share in it and enjoy it.

"I thought we had it all to do after the last, but I was hoping that Barry's strength might get us through".

Rather boringly, Elliott's top boy for the big occasion is now going for the same race he won past year, the Cross Country Chase (4.10), and I fancy him to go well again when it matters before going on to Aintree for the Grand National, in which he finished runner-up last April.

Bex, from Harry Cooks Freehouse, said "it's going to be very crazy" while Gordan, owner of John Gordans in Cheltenham, said it "kicks off the season".

There has been an outpour of support for the 38-year-old jockey and Paddy Power, which Walsh is a brand ambassador for, have said that they will pay out anyone that backed Walsh to be top jockey at the festival.

It's that time of the year again, racing fans. He dug deep thankfully, what a buzz'.

Vanessa Coleman

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