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

Racehorses will never give you an answer when they can come up with a new question instead.

Rachel Joyce: Morality tale celebrates the kindness of strangers

Paperback review: The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, By Rachel Joyce

She who would valiant be ...

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

CIVILWAR DIG: This print of

Civil war battle rises from the ruins of Old Fredericksburg

Perhaps the Yankee boys from Company C had tumbled into the basement on Princess Anne Street to escape the rebel snipers hidden in the ruined buildings outside.

DJ Taylor: Why change always gets the better of us...

... 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.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Independent Travel
Vietnam & Cambodia
Pompeii, Capri & the Bay of Naples
Bruges
India & Nepal
Japan
Berlin, Dresden, Meissen & Colditz
Prices correct as of 17 October 2014
Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

Fall of the Berlin Wall

History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

Turn your mobile phone into easy money

There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes
Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs:

Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs

"I have never regarded anything I have done in "the media" as a proper job"
Lyricist Richard Thomas shares his 11-step recipe for creating a hit West End musical

11-step recipe for creating a West End hit

Richard Thomas, the lyricist behind the Jerry Springer and Anna Nicole Smith operas, explains how Bob Dylan, 'Breaking Bad' and even Noam Chomsky inspired his songbook for the new musical 'Made in Dagenham'
Tonke Dragt's The Letter for the King has finally been translated into English ... 50 years on

Buried treasure: The Letter for the King

The coming-of-age tale about a boy and his mission to save a mythical kingdom has sold a million copies since it was written by an eccentric Dutchwoman in 1962. Yet until last year, no one had read it in English
Can instilling a sense of entrepreneurship in pupils have a positive effect on their learning?

The school that means business

Richard Garner heads to Lancashire, where developing the 'dragons' of the future is also helping one community academy to achieve its educational goals
10 best tablets

The world in your pocket: 10 best tablets

They’re thin, they’re light, you can use them for work on the move or keeping entertained
Lutz Pfannenstiel: The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents

Lutz Pfannenstiel interview

The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents
Pete Jenson: Popular Jürgen Klopp can reignite Borussia Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern Munich

Pete Jenson's a Different League

Popular Klopp can reignite Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern
John Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

The use of the British hostage demonstrates once again the militants' skill and originality in conducting a propaganda war, says Patrick Cockburn
The killer instinct: The man who helps students spot potential murderers

The killer instinct

Phil Chalmers travels the US warning students how to spot possible future murderers, but can his contentious methods really stop the bloodshed?
Clothing the gap: A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd

Clothing the gap

A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd
Fall of the Berlin Wall: Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain

The Fall of the Berlin Wall

Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain