Cheltenham Festival: Nicky Henderson eyes more success after Buveur D'Air's Champion Hurdle win
Nicky Henderson dabbed those famous moistened eyes and breathed a sigh of relief. One down, two to go.
Henderson's Buveur D'Air delivered on his favourite's status to win the Â£467,750 Unibet Champion Hurdle, the Festival's first day showpiece.
He became the first horse in 28 years to claim sprinting's triple crown and the first since 2005 to retain his Champion Hurdle title.
It was also Henderson's seventh race winner â€“ another record for a trainer whose place in the pantheon of National Hunt legend has long been secure.
But the Master of Seven Barrows isn't being given too much time to celebrate â€“ he is eyeing an unprecedented treble here, with the favourites in Wednesday's Champion Chase and Friday's Gold Cup now his focus.
"There's always pressure when you are trying to win these big races and that certainly gives us lots of confidence," he admitted.
Buveur D'Air â€“ the first horse to defend his title since Hardy Eustace â€“ certainly made Henderson nervous with the manner of the victory under jockey Barry Geraghty.
Although always prominent, Geraghty needed to show all his racing instincts to hold off the challenge of the Willie Mullins-trained Melon in a vintage finish up Cheltenham's fabled hill. Gordon Elliott's Mick Jazz completed the top three.
"That was the sort of brilliant race that makes the Festival what it is," said Henderson. "They went a good gallop throughout and they both kept it up in the closing stages, it was a great contest.
"That is what happens when you've got two great jockeys and two brave horses. Barry said he was never worried but I'm not sure I thought the same.
"He's not had a battle this year but this was a proper race and that showed his class. He's a really good young horse and he did what he needed."
This was Henderson's 59th Cheltenham success while owner JP McManus was celebrating a 53rd win at the Festival â€“ and his seventh Champion Hurdle.
"I'm just trying to keep up with Nicky," he joked.
"I'm delighted for everyone, especially Barry. I thought we had it all to do after the last but it was his strength that got us through."
Geraghty missed last year's Festival after puncturing a lung and breaking six ribs in a fall just a few weeks before.
He admitted he found it hard watching Noel Fehily take the ride 12 months ago, which only made this victory all the sweeter â€“ with the attritional heavy going underlining just what a talent this horse is.
"Last year was tough but I can't have any complaints now," he said. "Bad luck was the only thing that was going to beat him and it's great to get a big winner for the boss.
"He's battle hardened this fella and as tough as nails. He dug deep and he scrapped and I think he's proved himself an even better horse.
"The ground made this the ultimate test and you don't win back-to-back Champion Hurdles unless you are in a different class."