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Buveur D'Air became the first horse since Hardy Eustace to win the back-to-back renewals of the Unibet Champion Hurdle but he was made to work hard for the victory.
Nicky Henderson's charge was sent off the 4-6 favourite to clinch the two-mile championship and Barry Geraghty looked confident through the early stages as stablemate Charli Parcs took the field along.
2015 Champion Hurdle winner Faugheen raced in second but it was clear from some way out that he was not travelling as well as he could be and it was left to his stable companion Melon to provide the biggest test to Melon.
It was Melon who held a slight lead over Buveur D'Air jumping the last and in a thrilling finish there was little to separate the pair up the famous Cheltenham hill. However, Buveur D'Air proved himself a worthy champion as he took the lead in the dying strides to claim the title for a second successive year.
Mick Jazz was three lengths back in third.
"It's real winter conditions, very tacky down the back straight - as it's opened up it's become harder work. The ground made it the ultimate test, there's nowhere to hide. He won it the hard way, he battled hard. I tried to save as much as I could on the turn in and go for him as late as possible and he found when it was needed," Geraghty said.
"I missed one down the back, which I didn't expect. It was a proper race. The runner-up came and I thought he was coming to beat me, but he's battle hardened. He's as tough as nails and pulled it out. Bad luck was the only thing that was going to beat him, and he didn't get bad luck today. He proved there he was a better horse than he was last year. He dug deep and scrapped it out.
"He's very good - you don't win them back to back unless you are very good. He's a top-class horse. I missed last season and it's nice to ride a big winner for the boss (owner JP McManus) and doubly to do it for Nicky. It was a long year last year, but I've had great years here so I can't complain."
Henderson, who was winning the race for a seventh time, added: "He was tough and what a great race. They've gone a gallop there you wouldn't believe they would keep up in that ground and they have quickened again all the way up the hill. Two very brave horses and two great jockeys - I'm sure we got headed at the last and he was brave to come back.
"He had a battle on his hands today and in a funny way that's the first race he's had this year. It's just been in the back of my mind and has always worried me. That was the first time he's had to put his head down and fight."
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