Chris McGrath: Big Buck's has earned the right to risk glorious defeat

Inside Track

Eight days after retiring one of his greatest achievers, Paul Nicholls today brings us a champion in his prime.

And perhaps the abrupt pensioning of Denman, a horse who had always seemed indestructible, will remind us all to savour the brilliance of Big Buck's – even when it has almost come to seem routine.

His present streak of 13 consecutive hurdling wins matches that of Bula, in the 1970s, and he is closing inexorably on the record of 16 set by Sir Ken in the 1950s. It is now over three years since his last defeat, when unseating his rider over the final fence in the Hennessy – which mishap prompted Nicholls and his owner, Andy Stewart, to return Big Buck's to hurdles.

No doubt the intimidating presence of Denman and Kauto Star played its part in their decision to abandon the Gold Cup trail. Though one of his stablemates has now packed up, and the other relies on freakish longevity, it seems there will be no going back. And that seems eminently sensible – except, arguably, in a very literal sense.

For while his chosen discipline has contrived to come up with another young buck, in Dynaste, broadly speaking his supremacy is now set in stone. Odds-on for his last 10 starts, Big Buck's has seen off successive pretenders at the Cheltenham Festival in Punchestowns, Time For Rupert and Grands Crus. And while Dynaste was undeniably impressive at Haydock, he raced off 141 there, 33lb below the champion's official rating. If Big Buck's laughs at him, the way he did five inferiors on his Newbury comeback, it is difficult to see where meaningful opposition is going to come from.

Perhaps the answer is for connections to go looking for trouble. For when a horse assembles such an exceptional CV, he is surely owed the chance to establish where the limits of his ability may lie. There seems little danger of that happening, any time soon, over three miles. While Big Buck's remains in his pomp, then, it would be gratifying to see him set a fresh challenge.

A fourth success in the Ladbrokes World Hurdle in March would certainly represent a worthy legacy in the sport's annals. But what would then be the best way to draw level with Sir Ken, at Aintree the following month: with another lap of honour, over three miles, or a gloves-off encounter with Champion Hurdle protagonists over the intermediate trip of two and a half?

Never mind that unbroken chain of wins. All that matters, as Denman shows, is making the most of the time he has. Denman's whole career, after all, was about pushing himself to the limit. And he grew most in our affections on those days when he reached it, whether under a huge weight in the Hennessy or against epoch-making competition in the Gold Cup.

With that example in mind, it would surely be more fulfilling, for connections and fans alike, to allow Big Buck's to explore his full potential, than to extend even a record-breaking sequence of success. Of course, that is not to underestimate the odds he has already defied, not least in terms of soundness. As Nicholls says himself: "He'll get beat one day. That's what racing is all about. You look at the betting and think he's a certainty. But I've always thought one day he'll get himself beat."

But the only feasible quibble at Ascot today is that Big Buck's has not raced right-handed since arriving from France. Obviously he is an unbackable price, and incorrigible optimists are instead offered Cross Kennon – after his own unproductive flirtation with fences – at huge odds for an each-way return.

A far more open affair beckons in the Ladbroke Hurdle, albeit once again the champion trainer produces an obvious favourite. Prospect Wells has so far been beaten only by a really classy Irish novice, at Cheltenham last month, and Nicholls clearly reckons him well treated against these more exposed rivals. As a seasoned operator on the Flat, he will not be taken aback by the frantic environment, and his chance is clear – including, regrettably, to bookmakers.

At the odds, it would be inexcusable not to consider such alternatives as Viva Colonia, still improving for his remarkable young trainer; Sailors Warn, whose Triumph Hurdle sixth showed what he can do with a quicker gallop than in recent starts; and above all Act Of Kalanisi (3.35). From a stable now in better form than when he needed his comeback, he will almost be running loose with his talented young claimer taking off 7lb.

Brendan Powell Jnr looks as if he will go a long way, perhaps even as far as his father, who won the 1988 Grand National on Rhyme N' Reason. One thing he will certainly have been taught is to make the most of the gifts he has. And that imperative is shared by everyone in this precarious walk of life, horse or rider, all the way up to Big Buck's.

Turf Account

Chris McGrath's Nap

Moonlight Drive (2.10 Haydock)

Shaped well over fences on his return, but retains an unexposed profile back over timber for his handicap debut. Looks fairly treated and may have been primed for this – he is owned by the race sponsors.

Next Best

Whats Up Woody (2.45 Haydock)

Got his act together over fences on final start for Howard Johnson and, better still at this longer trip, looks an intriguing prospect for new yard off the bottom tier of the handicap.

One To Watch

Constant Contact (Donald McCain) was a distant fifth on his hurdling debut midweek at Newbury but showed quiet promise in a hot race, keeping on well from off the pace.

Where The Money's Going

Viva Colonia, who stormed up the hill when a close fifth at Cheltenham last time, is 12-1 from 16-1 with Coral for Ascot's Ladbroke Hurdle today.

Sport
Premier League Live
footballLIVE Follow all the Premier League action as it happens
Life and Style
3D printed bump keys can access almost any lock
gadgets + echSoftware needs photo of lock and not much more
News
The slice of Prince Charles and Princess Diana's wedding cake and the original box from 29 July 1981
newsPiece of Charles and Diana's wedding cake sold at auction in US
News
James Argent from Towie is missing, police say
peopleTV star had been reported missing
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace in Summer's Supermarket Secrets
tv All of this year's 15 contestants have now been named
News
i100(and it's got nothing to do with the Great British Bake Off)
Arts and Entertainment
Inside the gallery at Frederick Bremer School in Walthamstow
tvSimon Usborne goes behind the scenes to watch the latest series
Life and Style
A picture taken on January 12, 2011 shows sex shops at the Paris district of Pigalle.
newsThe industry's trade body issued the moratorium on Friday
Arts and Entertainment
Could we see Iain back in the Bake Off tent next week?
tv Contestant teased Newsnight viewers on potential reappearance
Life and Style
Silvia says of her famous creation: 'I never stopped wearing it. Because I like to wear things when they are off the radar'
fashionThe fashion house celebrated fifteen years of the punchy pouch with a weighty tome
News
i100
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in his Liverpool shirt for the first time
football
News
i100
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

Clinical Negligence Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: HAMPSHIRE MARKET TOWN - A highly attr...

Network Engineer (CCNP, CCNA, Linux, OSPF, BGP, Multicast, WAN)

£35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Network Engineer (CCNP, CCNA, Linux, OSPF,...

Commercial Property Solicitor - Bristol

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: A VERY HIGH QUALITY FIRM A high qual...

DevOps Engineer (Systems Administration, Linux, Shell, Bash)

£50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: DevOps Engineer (Systems Administration, L...

Day In a Page

Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone