Big Buck's and Walsh in a different league to their stayers' rivals
WORLD HURDLE PREVIEW:RUBY WALSH can hardly take a step around Cheltenham these days without breaking a record and victory for Big Buck’s in this afternoon’s Ladbrokes World Hurdle will provide the champion jockey with another one.
Seven other riders have twice won the Stayers’ crown, but Walsh will become the most successful jockey in the history of the race if he completes a hat-trick on the Paul Nicholls-trained star.
Big Buck’s will occupy a singular place too. Inglis Drever is the only horse to have won the championship event on three occasions, but his wins came in 2005, 2007 and 2008.
Big Buck’s is hot favourite to complete the sequence without interruption and it is not hard to see why.
Even on a roll-of-honour that also includes legendary names like Baracouda, Big Buck’s is a singular talent in terms of his dominance of the staying division.
Since arriving at the Nicholls yard from his native France, he has run 17 times and the only four defeats have come over fences. Put the smaller obstacles in front of him and Big Buck’s has proven unbeatable.
“He’s a bit quirky, a bit strange, he doesn’t like to be in front too long and he lugs to his left. But he’s an incredible racehorse. It looks a better World Hurdle than last year but he is a bit special,” Walsh said yesterday.
Nicholls used to believe it was critical to have Walsh on his back but during the jockey’s injury lay-off, Tony McCoy stepped in twice at Newbury and Big Buck’s never missed a beat.
In fact today’s race looked like developing into something of an ordination until the emergence of Grands Crus whose Cleeve Hurdle saunter last month has injected more of a competitive edge into today’s feature.
David Pipe’s grey could hardly have been more visually impressive, something Big Buck’s, with his “off-on” style of racing has rarely been accused of. But the demands of racing three miles around Cheltenham usually reward substance over style, something McCoy alluded to after that Cleeve performance by Grands Crus.
“To me, if you look at the best stayers, they always race behind the bridle. Horses like Baracouda and Inglis Drever never travelled through their races the way Grands Crus did in the Cleeve Hurdle,” he argued. “I could be wrong, but he’d have to be some horse to have enough in reserve to beat Big Buck’s.”
Significantly, not even proximity to the race itself, usually a time when trainers get cautious, could prevent Nicholls from being ultra-bullish yesterday.
“Big Buck’s is fresh and well. I was amazed he won at Newbury as he blew a house down afterwards. But he’s fitter now than ever. We’ve really got stuck into him. If Grands Crus or anyone beats him, and he runs up to his best, it will be something exceptional,” he said.
“If Grands Crus beats us then he’s a better horse, but I’d be surprised. It would take an awesome performance to beat him,” Nicholls added.
However, while Grands Crus has attracted more of the pre-race attention it could be it is Willie Mullins who gives Walsh and Nicholls most to contend with today.
Ireland’s champion trainer has both Mourad and Fiveforthree in the race and they look the best of a five-strong Irish challenge that also includes the hardy Cheltenham annual Powerstation.
He has been a regular in this race but it is Mourad who has proved to be something of a revelation over three miles at home this season. Paul Townend is on board today, leaving Fiveforthree in the care of David Casey.
That grey is a former festival winner and although plagued by injury since that 2008 victory, he impressively returned to action at Punchestown recently and will relish these ground conditions.
It doesn’t require too much imagination to see both of the Mullins horses serving up plenty for Big Buck’s. But it is a measure of the champion’s status that it demands plenty of the stuff to see them actually winning.
When it comes to the World Hurdle, Big Buck’s and Ruby Walsh appear to be in a world of their own.
Winner - Big Buck’s
Second - Fiveforthree
Third - Mourad