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.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
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

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper / Office Co-ordinator

£9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This role is based within a small family run ...

Recruitment Genius: Designer - Print & Digital

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Design and marketing agenc...

Recruitment Genius: Quantity Surveyor

£46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This property investment firm are lookin...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower