Big Buck’s brings World Hurdle in range despite running out of puff

Favourite beaten after 420 days out with injury as 66-1 shot claims galliardhomes.com Cleeve Hurdles at Cheltenham

There was welcome-back applause for the long-absent champion before the Cleeve Hurdle and a heartfelt well-done ovation as he returned safe, sound and gallant as ever. But there was no fairytale victory. Even Big Buck’s, the best long-distance hurdler there has ever been, could not overcome a layoff of 420 days, rain-sodden ground and a new pair of hands, those of rising weighing-room talent Sam Twiston-Davies, on his reins.

Big Buck’s defeat – he finished third to the 66-1 outsider of the six-strong field, Knockara Beau, and a resurgent At Fishers Cross – brought to an end a record-breaking 18-race winning streak that had stretched five years. And losing on a legend was always going to rather set Twiston-Davies up for a session in the stocks. Indeed, Daryl Jacob, stable jockey to the horse’s trainer Paul Nicholls, had felt the comeback ride too much of a poisoned chalice.

To some eyes Big Buck’s, who tends to like a target to aim at, was in front too soon; Twiston-Davies let the 11-year-old, who had hurdled with his trademark slickness, stride smoothly and strongly past trailblazers Knockara Beau and Quart De Thaix three from home.

But in fairness, he was still in front half-way up the run-in from the last hurdle, was caught only in the last half-dozen strides and was beaten less than a length into third place, still battling up the Cheltenham hill he knows so well.

And Nicholls, at least, was satisfied with the performance, which still oozed class until ring-rustiness kicked in. “I’m thrilled with the horse,” he said. “He jumped and travelled with all his old zest and just got tired from the back of the last. The ground was very testing and I toyed with taking him out, but I was desperate to get a race into him before the World Hurdle.”

Big Buck’s has won the marathon division crown four times but missed last year’s defence after picking up a tendon injury. “I told Sam to go out and be positive,” Nicholls added, “and if the horse got tired, he got tired, as he was entitled to do. It was only the second time he’d been on grass since his injury and though obviously I’d liked to have won, that will put him bang on for next time.”

Twiston-Davies, too, was disappointed but positive, and knows he will know Big Buck’s far better next time. “Everyone expects so much because he’s won 18 on the bounce,” he said, “but he’d had more than a year off and he needed the run as much as any horse would. He felt very special, as we all know he is, and he’ll run a massive race in the World Hurdle.”

The sponsors of the March showpiece, Ladbrokes, keep Big Buck’s at the head of their market, at 5-4. But Paddy Power prefer Annie Power. The Willie Mullins-trained mare took her unbeaten record to ten with an effortless performance at Doncaster yesterday. Intriguingly, she is the mount of Big Buck’s former jockey Ruby Walsh.

Big Buck’s started favourite for yesterday’s Grade 2 prize, but at 6-5 was odds against for the first time since winning the 2009 World Hurdle. So his defeat was probably less of a shock than Knockara Beau’s success, a first victory in 17 runs at Cheltenham over both hurdles and fences. The 11-year-old, who went last after being headed by Big Buck’s, showed the benefit of recent airway surgery as he found his second wind under Jan Faltejsek and held At Fishers Cross by a short-head.

Despite seeing off a clutch of World Hurdle contenders Knockara Beau will revert to fences for his next giant-killing venture. “The plan is to come back for the Gold Cup,” the Northumberland-based Charlton said.

Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
News
The University of California study monitored the reaction of 36 dogs
sciencePets' range of emotions revealed
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
Arts and Entertainment
The nomination of 'The Wake' by Paul Kingsnorth has caused a stir
books
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
film
News
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
News
i100
Life and Style
food + drinkZebra meat is exotic and lean - but does it taste good?
Arts and Entertainment
Residents of Derby Road in Southampton oppose filming of Channel 4 documentary Immigration Street in their community
tv
Voices
voicesSiobhan Norton on why she eventually changed her mind
News
i100
Extras
indybest
Sport
Scottish singer Susan Boyle will perform at the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony in Glasgow
commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules
filmReview: The Rock is a muscular Davy Crockett in this preposterous film, says Geoffrey Macnab
Life and Style
tech
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

BI Manager - £50,000

£49000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client is...

BI Project Manager - £48,000 - £54,000 - Midlands

£48000 - £54000 per annum + Benefits package: Progressive Recruitment: My clie...

VB.Net Developer

£35000 - £45000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: If you're pa...

SAP Business Consultant (SD, MM and FICO), £55,000, Wakefield

£45000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP Business...

Day In a Page

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn