Buveur D'Air toughs it out to cling on to title

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Odds-on favourite Buveur d'Air has claimed the Champion Hurdle - the feature race on day one of the Cheltenham Festival.

Under Barry Geraghty he was ridden just behind the leaders, before travelling home strongly and fighting off Willie Mullins' Melon in a tight finish.

The 4-6 favourite held on by a neck under jockey Barry Geraghty to give record-breaking trainer Nicky Henderson a seventh victory in the race.

"That was the first time he's had to put his head down and fight", he said. After his last race at Sandown, we were talking about him not having any really hard races this year, but today was one. It was a proper race. "The ground made it the ultimate test, there's nowhere to hide", he reported. The runner-up came and I thought he was coming to beat me, but he's battle hardened. Bad luck was the only thing that was going to beat him, and he didn't get bad luck today.

She left the meeting dejected last year after being unseated from Tea For Two at the second fence after lining up as the first female rider in the showpiece Gold Cup for 33 years.

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.

"It sent the hairs down the back of my neck", said Walsh who only returned to the saddle last week from a broken leg. They went a good gallop throughout and Buveur D'Air and Melon were able to then keep that gallop up in the closing stages, it was a great contest to keep that up the whole way.

Mullins' Benie Des Dieux ran out a shock victor of the Mares Hurdle, as odds-on favourite Apple's Jade could only finish a disappointing third. It became even better for Mullins when his son Patrick steered Rathvinden to a thrilling victory in the National Hunt Chase.

The Tom George-trained Summerville Boy claimed the opening race of the festival - the Supreme Novices' Hurdle - at a price of 9-to-1. Mister Whitaker was her first purchase since the death of her husband Terry Biddlecombe, the legendary former jockey.

"The second horse is a good horse", said veteran handler Henderson after sending out yet another victor from his Seven Barrows yard near Lambourn, southern England. It's the first horse I bought for Tim since Terry died and it's such a thrill. It's just magic. Brian was just flawless with him.

"Probably I'd say we'll keep him hurdling next year and I'd imagine he'll go to Punchestown, but he could go to Aintree over two-and-a-half, we'll see". I think he did get headed but Barry said he was never anxious as he thought he would always get there. "He wasn't too expensive and he's such an athlete".

"Joe Donnelly, who owns the second, I've known him many years".

"I'm delighted with him as it's vindicated what we have always thought about him". "I don't see why not, as he's only six". He's a top-class horse.

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