Buck's on money despite Walsh 'schoolboy error'

Nicholls' great stayer wins unprecedented third World Hurdle in a row after rider drops his 'stick' before last
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The Independent Online

It was an Irish voice that led the three cheers in the winner's circle for Big Buck's after he confirmed his matchless class with an unprecedented third successive World Hurdle. For though the eight-year-old is trained on these shores, in Somerset by Paul Nicholls, above all the Irish appreciate a good horse. And this marathon man is a properly good one, easily the best hurdler in training, Tuesday's new two-mile champion Hurricane Fly not excepted.

And, of course, he is ridden by one of their own, Ruby Walsh. But the rider, too, gave it to the horse. As appreciative roars of his name rolled down from the grandstands in the wake of what appeared to have been an ideally executed length and three-quarter defeat of Grands Crus, Walsh shook his head and pointed with both forefingers to his mount. "It wasn't me, it was him," he said. "I dropped my stick before the last. A schoolboy error; I was watching the others and not concentrating on what I was doing. But he's a wonderful horse and he got me out of trouble."

Although by Walsh's standards the ride he gave the odds-on shot lacked absolute perfection, it was exquisite to watch nonetheless. Walsh kept Big Buck's, normally a horse who creeps from off the pace for a late pounce, close to the sedate enough gallop set by Cross Kennon for most of the three miles, and was the first to commit for the run to the line in the straight.

The risk was that he would become the target, instead of the arrow. After the Irish pair Fiveforthree and eventual third Mourad took aim and missed, the final challenge came from Grands Crus and, for a stride, after the last, the battle the market had hinted at was on.

But, really, only for a stride. Once Walsh asked firmly, with hands, legs and voice, Big Buck's lengthened his imperious stride. "I knew it would be tactical and that Grands Crus would follow me," added Walsh, "and the guys riding against him knew exactly what to do and had their tactics spot on, but it just didn't matter what they did.

"The horse has matured so much mentally that he no longer needs to be in behind, you can now stretch them from the front. In a hurdle race he's as unbeatable as they come. He's an aeroplane."

It was Big Buck's 11th successive hurdles victory; he is only 2-1 to add a fourth crown here next year. "There was more pressure today than before," said Nicholls. "I was worried about the fast ground, and slow pace, and Grands Crus. But he simply showed his class."

After the opening Jewson Novices Chase, in which Noble Prince powered up the hill to give Irish yards their record-equalling 10th winner of the meeting, confidence among the shamrock-wearing massed ranks that welcomed the winner was so high that internecine banter broke out, never mind that international rivalry. Cries of "Come on Wexford" to welcome winning trainer Paul Nolan, of that county, were countered, amid gales of glee, by "No, come on Kerry."

But after taking six from seven the previous afternoon, that was as good as it got for the raiders on St Patrick's Day. After winning on Noble Prince, who once acted as pacemaker for Yeats in a Prix du Cadran on the Flat, Tony McCoy doubled his score for the week on Albertas Run, who is trained a horseshoe's throw from the track by Jonjo O'Neill and held off Kalahari King to take his second Ryanair Chase.

There was compensation for Devon-based David Pipe for Grand Crus' fine effort when Buena Vista, making a remarkable seventh consecutive visit to the Festival, repeated last year's victory in the Pertemps Final and Junior took the Kim Muir Chase. And Pat Rodford's tiny Somerset operation followed up Sparky May's second spot on Tuesday with a win by the unconsidered Holmwood Legend in the Byrne Group Plate.

Junior, the winner of last year's Ascot Stakes at the Royal meeting, became one rare winner at both Flat and jump racing's great Festivals. And yesterday produced another, as champion Flat trainer Henry Cecil saddled Plato to win the novelty amateurs' race that ended the day.