Sport Big Buck's wins in 2012 at Cheltenham, where he returns on Saturday after missing last year

Big Buck’s is back. More than a year after effortlessly extending his unbeaten sequence to 18, the four-time World Hurdle winner returns to Cheltenham for the Cleeve Hurdle on trials day to great fanfare and the delight of everyone connected with the sport.

Sir Des Champs, who won at the Cheltenham Festival last year under Davy Russell

Cheltenham Festival: Jim Culloty rides Lord Windermere to victory in the RSA Chase

Willie Mullins-trained Boston Bob crashed out at the final fence when going well in front

Tidal Bay, right, is very well handicapped in the National

Lenient weight for Aintree fancy Tidal Bay angers National rivals

However conscientiously they strive to improve the odds in terms of safety at Aintree – a greater imperative than ever, after trauma and tragedy in each of the past two years – the one thing they will never provide is a level playing field. Even so, some felt that the dice had been unfairly loaded in favour of one horse in particular when the weights for the John Smith's Grand National were published.

Gold standard: Sir Des Champs (right), ridden by Davy Russell, races clear of Andrew Lynch on Flemenstar to win the Hennessy Gold Cup at Leopardstown

Sir Des Champs takes trial with ease

Mullins gelding jumps into reckoning for Cheltenham Gold Cup as Silviniaco Conti also impresses

Alasi (centre) upstages 4-9 shot Champion Court at Kempton yesterday

Flemenstar to pass the stamina test

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Bobs Worth will not race again before the Cheltenham Gold Cup

Bobs Worth heads missing list from Gold Cup warm-up

Typical. Just when the weather seemed prepared to clear the stage for his critical rehearsal, the favourite for the Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup has come up with a problem of his own. And while his trainer sounds relaxed about taking him straight to the Festival in March, Bobs Worth will now line up for the biggest test of his life after only five starts over fences.

Harry The Viking jumps a fence at Cheltenham last year

Sir Alex Ferguson's Viking to raid Aintree

Harry The Viking, who carries the silks of Sir Alex Ferguson, was today confirmed as a possible runner in the John Smith's Grand National.

Hurricane Fly gained a bloodless victory in the Istabraq Festival Hurdle at Leopardstown on Saturday

Nicholls shapes his plans to fit Bay's eccentric contours

Given that awards and judgements seem to be a natural feature of the turn of a year, surely the statisticians at the sport's ratings bible Timeform can take the opportunity to hand out a bit of justice with the removal of one of their pejorative gongs. For the past four seasons the symbol for unreliability – a periwig squiggle – has accompanied their annual essays on the classy but enigmatic Tidal Bay.

Jezki forges clear over the final flight at Leopardstown yesterday

Casey's Flemenstar seeks fanfare for common man

It is the moment of truth not just for Flemenstar, but for anyone clinging to the hope that he can restore the lost romance to jump racing. A sport increasingly dominated by wealthy patrons of a few top trainers today shares the tension and excitement suffusing the Casey family's tiny stable, just up the coast from Dublin, as Flemenstar attempts a new summit at Leopardstown. A first start over three miles in the Lexus Chase, in testing ground, requires him to disclose a doughtiness to match his brilliance. If he proves equal to the challenge, every neutral will join his connections in their dream of landing the Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup.

Jack Straw: Served 13 years in the Cabinet and has an ear for an anecdote

IoS Books of the Year 2012: Politics

This year was a long time in politics

David Pipe’s novice chaser Dynaste gains an impressive win at Newbury yesterday

Magnanimity offers generous value to end Ireland's Hennessy drought

Change of headgear can revive Hughes' chaser while Big Buck's looks on course for win No 18

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... and how, among ourselves, we have much sunnier memories of the Bad Old Days than the official chroniclers of our age

LVMH rides out economic storms

Despite a slowdown in China and turmoil in Europe, the insatiable demand for monogrammed Louis Vuitton luggage and Marc Jacobs handbags is showing no signs of abating.

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