Buveur D'Air makes his long-awaited return after 420 days on the sidelines at Haydock – but The New One Unibet Hurdle is unlikely to be a "gimme", despite only two horses taking on the former champion.
The Nicky Henderson-trained 10-year-old receives weight from both his rivals on Saturday and is proven in testing conditions, although the Grade Two affair may not have been the first race on the Seven Barrows trainer’s agenda for the JP McManus-owned gelding.
However, Henderson has been delighted with how Buveur D’Air has got himself into a position to race again, after he picked up a nasty injury to his hoof at Newcastle in November 2019, with a six-inch splinter from a hurdle becoming stuck in his foot, requiring surgery.
"This wasn’t the original plan, but he was so well and came to himself much quicker than I anticipated so we decided to come here and it will be great to see him back on a racetrack," Henderson – whose current champion Epatante was beaten at odds-on in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton over Christmas – said in his Unibet blog.
"It was very much touch and go as to whether he’d even race again because he had to have his foot literally put back together, but we have changed the way he trains and he never sets foot on anything other than grass and everything has gone well.
"Yes there are only three runners and yes he receives weight, but it’s still a horse race and he has to jump and gallop round safely so it’s certainly no 'gimme’. But I couldn’t be happier with him."
Nigel Twiston-Davies feels Ballyandy will be no pushover as he bids to win this race for the second year running.
"Ballyandy has been a wonderful horse for us and we’re looking forward to seeing him run," said the Naunton handler.
"He won the race last year on testing ground, so hopefully he can once again go close.
"He is taking on the returning Buveur D’Air but, given the ground and his form this season, we are hopeful of a good run. He came out of the Christmas Hurdle well and this has been the plan since."
Navajo Pass has a bit to find on ratings, but trainer Donald McCain is happy to take his chance in such a small field.
"Obviously we’re up against it off 149, he’s just turned five," said the Cheshire handler.
"We’ve nowhere to go unless we want to carry a huge weight in a handicap, which is what we were doing at the start of the season and couldn’t do it.
"I think two miles on this ground will be fine. I’ve got an owner (Tim Leslie) that’s prepared to take a punt, so we’ll see.
"He’s a nice horse, he’s probably next season’s horse in that sense. For last season’s juveniles this can be a tough year. He’s a smashing horse, he can only keep on improving and you can’t turn your back on a three-runner race at Haydock."