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

Cheltenham preview

But there was some bad news from the 67-year-old as Champion Hurdle favourite Buveur D'Air's stablemate was withdrawn.

The favourite's stable companion Charli Parcs had cut out the pace, firstly in the company of former champion Faugheen (4/1), and then on his own.

"Buveur D'Air has been winning races by large margins all season and that was the first race he has been in".

Instead it was left to Buveur D'Air and Melon to go neck and neck after the final hurdle with Barry Geraghty's mount just coming out on top. It's just been in the back of my mind and has always anxious me. It was job done. "That's a big relief, he was expected to collect. I've not had a talk to JP (McManus) to see what anybody wants to do, but as long as there's some soft ground around he could run".

Leading Irish trainer Willie Mullins enjoyed another fantastic day the Festival, swooping three winners from seven races.

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.

Walsh, who only last week returned to action having been sidelined since suffering a broken leg in November, said: "It sent the hairs down the back of my neck".

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"I thought Melon was going to beat me".

Mullins said of Footpad: "This fellow could be a Gold Cup horse".

Trainer Nicky Henderson will decide tomorrow morning whether Queen Mother Champion Chase favourite Altior will make the race.

They made it a double when Benie Des Dieux and Walsh won the Mares hurdle in a 9-1 double for Walsh who made it winners numbers 57 and 58 at Cheltenham.

Summerville Boy (9-1) recovered from at least one shuddering error to claim a last-gasp victory in the curtain-raising Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle.

The 5-to-1 favourite Coo Star Sivola claimed the Ultima Handicap Chase - the third race on the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival.

The concluding Close Brothers Novices' Handicap Chase went to Mick Channon's 13-2 shot Mister Whitaker, ridden by Brian


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