Buveur D'Air retains Champion Hurdle in Cheltenham thriller

Buveur D'Air showed his quality in an epic duel to the line with Melon to retain the Champion Hurdle in the showpiece race on the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival.

The Nicky Henderson-trained gelding was the overwhelming favourite in a race devoid of championship quality.

And in a fierce battle down the home straight, Barry Geraghty rallied Buveur D'Air after falling behind to Melon with half a furlong remaining to win by half a length.

It marks a seventh win in the race for Henderson, the Festival's most successful trainer.

"It's real winter conditions, tacky down the back straight, he won it the hard way," Geraghty told ITV. 

"He battled hard, I tried to save as much as I could, he found it when he was needed. 

"It was a proper race, I thought he was going to beat me, he's battle-hardened. He proved there he's a better horse than last year."

The sentimental money to battle Buveur D'Air was on Willie Mullins' Faugheen, who has had a series of injuries since winning this race three race ago.

The pace proved too much for the 10-year-old, though, and it was left to another Mullins horse Melon to take up the race.

Had Melon won it would have seen Mullins close the gap to Henderson in the battle for Cheltenham supremacy, but he did have a winner in the Arkle Trophy.

Trusty partner Ruby Walsh, Cheltenham's most successful jockey, put in a tactical masterclass atop Footpad, timing the charge to perfection after Petit Mouchoir had set a rapid early pace to delight the fans in attendance.

There was earlier disappointment for Mullins though as his favourite Getabird faded out of contention in the Supreme Novices Hurdle, 8-1 shot Summerville Boy charging up the inside to deny Kalashnikov victory.

Later, Coo Star Sivola won a thrilling Handicap Chase after holding off the valiant challenge of Shantou Flyer.

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