NICKY Henderson’s Air raid at Haydock was off target – but the champion trainer still has Cheltenham in his sights.
Two-time Champion Hurdle winner Buveur D’Air was second on his long-awaited return from injury on Saturday.
He had been off since November 2019 after a gruesome operation to remove a huge splinter from his hoof.
The 10-year-old travelled and jumped well under Nico De Boinville, but he got tired on the run-in behind the outsider of three Navajo Pass.
But Hendo was satisfied with the performance and reckons the veteran hurdler badly needed the run.
He told Sun Racing: “He has come out of the race 100%, which is a huge relief. He is as sound as he’s ever been.
“He loved it. He knew where he was, even though there was no atmosphere on course, he was shivering with excitement to be back!
“It has been a long time coming and it has taken a lot of hard work from a lot of people to get him back.
“It was a horrible injury, he had a large chunk of his hoof removed and the chances of ever getting him back were slim.
“He’s a 10-year-old now and it’s like training any old athlete – he must be the equivalent of a 40-year-old – age creeps up on you and it’s harder to get fit.
“Coming to the last he was bearing down on the winner, but he just had a good blow and got tired late on.”
Buveur D’Air will now head straight for the Champion Hurdle, for which he is a 12-1 shot with Coral.
Hendo continued: “He has run a very sound race and we have got him home in one piece, which is what we wanted.
“We have a good platform to build on for the Champion Hurdle and plenty of time to get him ready.”
Gold Cup runner-up Santini is also due to have his final prep for the Cheltenham Festival this week.
He is being aimed at Saturday’s Cotswold Chase, but Henderson is worried about the likelihood of testing ground.
He said: “Santini is in very good order, he did a lovely piece of work this week.
“The plan is to go to the Cotswold Chase, but if the ground is bottomless we might have to query the wisdom of running him.
“Before a race like the Gold Cup you don’t want them to go there off a tough run in tough ground.”
And Champ is also nearing a return to action, with the RSA Chase winner pencilled in for the Denman Chase at Newbury in three weeks’ time.
Hendo added: “Champ had an away day last week and had jumped a load of fences and had a really good gallop.
“He looks fantastic and is training beautifully, so we are looking forward to getting him back in the Denman Chase at Newbury in a couple of weeks.”
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