Chris McGrath's Day Three Verdict: Buck's can justify Walsh's biggest hopes by keeping grip on title

Champion stayer set to dominate while Tranquil Sea looks ready to make waves
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The Independent Online

Before the meeting, Ruby Walsh seemed to view Big Buck's as the most bankable of his three defending champions at Cheltenham this week, if only because he would have to spend less time in the air than Master Minded or Kauto Star. The defeat of Master Minded yesterday suggests he might have been on the right track, though with both the first two of the Festival's four odds-on favourites already beaten, the pressure is rising uncomfortably for the third.

Any punters bold enough to take the odds are unlikely to find the Ladbrokes World Hurdle a terribly relaxing spectacle, owing to the favourite's habit of hitting a flat spot before ultimately dominating. And while it seems a curious thing to say about the hurdler officially ranked as the best in training, his backers would have grounds for anxiety should anything prevent Walsh taking the ride. His mastery has seldom been more evident than in deceiving his mount that he wins purely through his own, autonomous intentions.

On the face of it, then, you might not be too surprised should a horse come along some day and goad Big Buck's into an irritable, unfocused defeat. But many of the top operators in this discipline, such as Inglis Drever and Baracouda, have prospered with a similar running style. The likelihood is that what resembles indolence or inattention reflects the sort of uphill gearshift demanded when classy hurdlers go a Cheltenham Festival gallop for two miles and then have to raise their game anew for fully another mile.

Since Paul Nicholls astutely abandoned those experiments with fences, Big Buck's (3.20) has utterly dominated this division, in turn prompting Punchestowns and Diamond Harry to seek pastures new as novice chasers. He is scarcely a betting proposition at the odds, however, so many punters will want to consider the each-way alternatives.

Sentry Duty excels when fresh, as he is now, and would be interesting if able to stretch his speed; Alan King has been telling everyone that Katchit has been thrashing Karabak on the gallops; while Tidal Bay seemed to find hurdles a pleasant novelty when consenting to show an interest, for once, in beating Katchit among others at Cheltenham in January. But the outstanding value is 50-1 against the Borders raider, Lie Forrit. Clearly not himself when pulled up behind Tidal Bay that day, he had previously looked ready for this grade when conceding a whopping 30lb to the runner-up – and idling as he did so – in a competitive handicap at Newbury. A 100-1 bumper winner on his debut, he has not been beaten when completing over timber since finishing second in his first novice hurdle.

Walsh and Nicholls inevitably have a leading fancy for the card's big chase, having kept Poquelin fresh for the Ryanair since his success in a valuable handicap here in December. But he has previously been routed in a similar race by Tranquil Sea (2.40), only closing on the run-in as the winner idled. Edward O'Grady is rightly pleased by the way Tranquil Sea has since acquitted himself in two starts over shorter distances.

The Walsh-Nicholls combination will be very hard to beat, however, in the Pertemps Hurdle. Alfie Sherrin (2.05) is a top-class chaser in the making.

In Compliance (4.00) steps down from a long career among the elite, in which he has by no means looked out of place, and can duly outclass his rivals for the Byrne Group Plate. The handicaps book-ending the card can meanwhile go to and Nicanor (1.30), who has been desperate for this better ground, and the flourishing Ballabriggs (4.40).

4 from 5

World Hurdle each-way fancy Lie Forrit's wins-to-runs record in completed starts over timber.

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