If ever Buveur D’Air is to be regarded as a great in the pantheon of Champion Hurdle winners, it will not be because of his last two wins in the great race, but this year’s renewal, next month.
The decision to let Apple’s Jade take her chance is the opening day’s showpiece is a boon to the legion of fans who have been clamouring for someone, anyone, to put it up to Buveur D’Air before he’s officially crowned one of the ‘greats’ if he wins his third Champion Hurdle.
How superb is this? Apple’s Jade romps home by well over 10 lengths in the Irish Champion Hurdle!
? RacingTV pic.twitter.com/RcNdqpfKl5
— Racing Reflex (@Racing_Reflex) February 2, 2019
And to the ‘you can only beat what is put in front of you’ brigade, who have excused the Champion going for ‘soft’ targets over the past two years, rather than establishing his greatness in tougher tests, make a note in your diary: Tuesday, March 12, 2019 is D-day.
Cotton wool is the chosen fabric to wrap our superstar equine friends in nowadays, so Gigginstown House Stud’s sporting decision to let Apple’s Jade take on the best crack two-mile hurdlers is to be applauded.
Now the question becomes: can she win it?
When you consider the leading players’ form stats and ratings, the likely make-up of this year’s opening day feature and the stance of Gigginstown makes for interesting reading.
On my private ratings I have Buveur D’Air, 2 lbs clear on what each of the leading six in the betting has achieved this season.
If Apple’s Jade lines up in the Champion Hurdle, as we are told she will, she is almost certainly going to try and make the running.
Critically, it gives Nicky Henderson’s ace a lovely tow into the closing stages which he didn’t really get last year.
His run in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle, when he treated Samcro with utter disdain, despite demolishing the final flight, makes the current champion the form choice.
What we do know is that the way to get him beaten is to turn a race into a speed contest.
Buveur D’Air is a stayer, pure and simple, in essence a two and a half miler as were previous champs Rooster Booster, Hardy Eustace, Brave Inca, Katchit, Jezki and Faugheen.
Yes, he has a high-cruising speed, but not an instant turn of foot. He is at his best being pulled into a contest off a hot pace and basically lengthening up the final climb on a stiff track with some juice in the ground a bonus.
Those pundits and punters that were aghast at his defeat at Kempton Park in the Christmas Hurdle at the hoofs of Verdana Blue need to look at the facts.
In 2017 and 2018 Buveur D’Air ran below form in the Kempton Park contest, a race and a track that simply don’t play to his strengths.
Of course, Apple’s Jade gets a ridiculous 7lbs allowance for being a mare which may yet hand the advantage to her purely on the figures, but how do you apportion poundage as regards the make-up of a race?
The fact that Samcro was in the entries suggest that Gigginstown still have hopes that their big boy has a chance of running and he too would be suited by an end-to-end gallop in the Champion Hurdle.
And then there is Laurina, at least 6lbs short of both Apple’s Jade and Buveur D’Air on my ratings, but a work in progress and arguably the most unexposed in the entries.
Should the ground come up softer than good, Laurina could make the biggest step forward of that trio.
Her jumping needs to be sweeter than she has shown in her career to date, but she has so much physical scope and a devouring stride that I am convinced there is a lot more to come from her.
However, there needs to be.
In contrast, her stablemate Sharjah needs a sound surface to hit his peak and is the forgotten runner in the line-up.
He has gone about his business in an efficient way this campaign with his last two runs being career-best efforts and at least the equal of Verdana Blue.