Champion staying hurdler Big Buck’s has Exeter gallop
Paul Nicholls trained 10-year-old ‘looks as good as new’ after long lay-off
Trainer Paul Nicholls with Big Buck’s ridden by Daryl Jacob (left) and Solar Impulse after excercising at Exeter yesterday.
Big Buck’s took an important step ahead of his eagerly-anticipated return to action with a gallop before racing at Exeter yesterday.
Looking very fit, with his skin in good condition, he travelled alongside Finale Hurdle-bound stablemate Solar Impulse, ridden by Nick Scholfield, before going ahead near the winning line.
The 10-year-old, who is unbeaten in his last 18 races, has not been seen since making a winning reappearance at Newbury in the Long Distance Hurdle in December last year. Owner Andy Stewart’s star was found to be suffering from a leg injury later that month.
He has been back cantering since October and is being aimed at the Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham in January before bidding for a fifth Ladbrokes World Hurdle triumph at the Cheltenham Festival.
Nicholls said: “I’ve had him pretty fit as he has done lots of preparatory work, it was just a matter of getting him back on to a racecourse and that was his first bit on grass. With all of ours we tend to get them ready on the all-weather and it was pleasing that he didn’t blow too much. It’s been a long road back, but there was no way I was going to rush it.
As good as new
“Our plan was to go for the Cleeve Hurdle ahead of the World Hurdle and then possibly take in Aintree in the spring. To be quite honest he looks as good as new, and when you consider the likes of Tidal Bay and Kauto Star he is still a young horse and there is no reason he won’t be as good as he’s ever been.”
Nicholls added: “There will be another gallop, either here or at Wincanton, before he runs in the Cleeve.”
Jacob, who has yet to ride Big Buck’s in a race, was also pleased. He said: “We just went a nice, even gallop. It was exactly what he needed. Paul wanted him to have a nice day out and he’s had that.”
A mouthwatering clash between Hurricane Fly and Triumph Hurdle winner Our Conor is still on the cards after the pair were among nine horses left in the Ryanair Hurdle at Leopardstown on Sunday week.
Hurricane Fly will try to extend his Grade One tally after setting a world record of 17 top-level success at Punchestown last month, while the Dessie Hughes-trained Our Conor is set to make his belated seasonal debut.
Willie Mullins, the trainer of Hurricane Fly, also has the unbeaten Un De Sceaux, Thousand Stars, Zaidpour and Annie Power, although the last three have alternative engagements at the meeting and the former is entered at Thurles on Sunday.
Jessica Harrington’s Jezki, winner of the Hatton’s Grace Hurdle at the beginning of the month, Ted Veale and veteran Captain Cee Bee make up the nine.
Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Bobs Worth heads a field of 14 remaining in the Lexus Chase at Leopardstown on Saturday week at the latest acceptance stage.
Nicky Henderson named the Dublin track’s three-mile showpiece as a likely target after the eight-year-old disappointed when only sixth to Cue Card in the Betfair Chase at Haydock on his seasonal debut.
Paul Nicholls, who sent out Tidal Bay to take a thrilling renewal in 2012, is set to rely on Unioniste, who was a good winner at Aintree earlier this month. The Mouse Morris-trained First Lieutenant was beaten just a head by Tidal Bay last year and could try to go one better.