Big Buck's has World at his feet for another year
It is going to happen some day. And only when it does, perhaps, will everyone truly appreciate what has gone before.
In compiling 15 consecutive wins over hurdles, Big Buck's has proved a miracle of soundness and consistency. The trainers of Sea The Stars and Istabraq and Frankel himself would tell you that all champions build their glamour upon these same, yeoman foundations. As a staying hurdler, however, Big Buck's so depends upon them that his status may only be finally, formally sealed by the records that beckon him today.
Big Buck's is odds-on to become the first horse to win the divisional championship, the Ladbrokes World Hurdle, three years running. In doing so, he would match Sir Ken's record of consecutive wins over hurdles, which has stood since 1953.
Sir Ken's sequence ultimately foundered at odds of 1-7, and sooner or later Big Buck's will presumably be undone by the sort of hazards he has hitherto contrived to suppress from consideration. Simply to have eluded illness or lameness tells of an extraordinary constitution; and, so clumsy over fences, he has jumped electrically since his return to timber. Whatever happens, Big Buck's (3.20) has taught punters that the last thing likely to derail him is a better horse.
That may change, if ever connections grasp the nettle and set him a challenge that might explore the extent of his latent resources – perhaps by dropping him to two and a half miles at Aintree, where he would meet Champion Hurdle types halfway. At this trip, however, he has reliably seen off all-comers. Since winning this for the first time, at 6-1, he has started odds-on for every start and duly beaten such impudent challengers such as Time For Rupert and Grands Crus.
This time round, their unhappy fate is likely to be shared by Oscar Whisky, who was quick enough to finish third in the Champion Hurdle last year and has since stretched his speed comfortably to the intermediate distance. If still there approaching the last, Oscar Whisky may force Big Buck's into a proper shift. But one of the secrets of the favourite's longevity is an indolent style that has never disclosed his full capacity, and Oscar Whisky may well find the fuel gauge entering the red on the hill.
Those intimidated by the odds about the favourite are recommended an each-way interest in So Young, who is still on the upgrade and might well have beaten First Lieutenant and Rock On Ruby here last season but for a blunder at the last. He has since been given experience in shallower waters, and shapes as a more obvious candidate than Oscar Whisky to improve for the distance. He looks pretty good value at 20-1.
There could hardly be a greater contrast in the other championship race on the card, the Ryanair Chase field seeming divided by ounces rather than pounds on the ratings. The simplest solution would be to stick with Albertas Run, winner of the last two runnings as well as the RSA Chase in his younger days. His relish for the course and conditions will clearly serve him well again, but this looks a hotter race than usual and preference is for a set of younger legs in Noble Prince (2.40). His success at last year's Festival confirmed that the Irish raider needs decent ground, but he has none the less shaped very well this winter, variously over shorter distances or in the mud.
The race he won last year, the Jewson Novices' Chase, also brings together a couple of past Festival winners. Sir Des Champs just keeps on rolling, but Peddlers Cross (1.30) introduces the class of a Champion Hurdle runner-up to proceedings. Donald McCain wisely avoided Sprinter Sacre here on Tuesday, when both the big guns he did fire – Overturn and Cinders And Ashes – ran out of their skins. This horse has evidently given him one or two problems but had previously taken slickly to fences and will be extremely hard to beat if at his best.
The rest of the card comprises the usual minefield handicaps. Buena Vista is back for yet another Festival as he bids for a hat-trick in the Pertemps Final, but Russian War (2.05, nap) has gone well fresh in the past and his absence since the autumn has a decidedly calculated look. Salut Flo bids to land a gamble in the Byrne Group Plate, but there remains a slight doubt about his stamina and there may be better value about last year's winner, Holmwood Legend, or Charingworth (4.0) who has hit it off with his talented claimer. The Kim Muir-Fulke Walwyn pitches an improving young chaser in Up The Beat against one with a purposeful look in Sunnyhillboy (4.40, next best).
World Hurdle: Experts' verdict
Chris McGrath (Racing Correspondent) 1 Big Buck's 2 So Young 3 Oscar Whisky
James Lawton (Chief Sports Writer) 1 Big Buck's 2 Oscar Whisky 3 Mourad
James Corrigan (sports writer)1 Oscar Whisky 2 Big Buck's 3 So Young
Sue Montgomery (racing writer) 1 Big Buck's 2 Thousand Stars 3 Oscar Whisky
Hyperion (tipster) 1 Big Buck's 2 Oscar Whisky 3 Voler La Vedette
John Cobb (Associate Editor, Racing Post ) 1 Oscar Whisky 2 Big Buck's 3 Dynaste
What's in a name
Ashkazar (Pertemps Final Hurdle)
In common with many Aga Khan-bred horses bears an Islamic place-name, in this case a town in the Kerman province of Iran.
Forpadydeplasterer (Ryanair Chase)
Paddy Reilly, a property developer and sometime plasterer, was one of those who once bailed out Ireland's cash-strapped Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern. So was Charlie Chawke, the head of the ownership syndicate.
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