World Hurdle trends suggest Big Buck’s will struggle
Not since Golden Miller has one horse dominated a Championship race at the Cheltenham Festival as much as Big Buck’s.
Paul Nicholls’ ace initially started his career in England over fences, having been a very good hurdler in France as youngster.
However after unseating the unfairly-maligned Sam Thomas in the 2008 Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury, Nicholls decided to revert the horse to hurdles and he has not looked back since.
He has won four World Hurdles, part of a winning streak of 18 races, and only lost his crown in 2013 as he had to miss the race because of a leg injury sustained before the Christmas of 2012.
The son of Cadoudal is on target to bid to regain his crown in March, however there has only ever been one 11-year-old winner in the last 41 renewals of the race, namely the Fulke Walwyn-trained Crimson Embers in 1986.
Fulke Walwyn, along with Howard Johnson, won the race three times, however Paul Nicholls has swept past both because of Big Buck’s and is the most successful trainer in the race’s history.
Before Big Buck’s, no horse had won three World Hurdles in consecutive years.
Francois Doumen’s Baracouda was second to Iris’s Gift as he chased a hat-trick in 2004, and he also failed in the two following seasons as he attempted to regain the top staying crown.
Inglis Drever tragically died before he could bid for a fourth title in 2009 but his record at Cheltenham will give some hope to fans of Big Buck’s.
Johnson’s stable star won the three mile contest in 2005 but then missed the 2006 Festival because of injury. However he returned to Prestbury Park to win again in both 2007 and 2008, becoming the first horse to regain the World Hurdle crown since Crimson Embers did it in 1986.
Rare Irish success
In Big Buck’s absence, last season’s three mile crown went to the Charles Byrnes-trained Solwhit who had previously competed over shorter trips.
However his subsequent win at Aintree suggests that he is a formidable opponent now stepped up to this distance and the wily Byrnes will be eyeing a repeat performance in March.
Irish runners don’t have a good record, with 1995 winner Doran’s Pride the last to taste success before the victory of Solwhit.
However one Irishman who has dominated the race is jockey Ruby Walsh, who along with Nicholls, has basked in Big Buck’s limelight.
Although no longer the stable jockey at Ditcheat, Walsh will surely ride the Andy Stewart-owned horse as he bid to add to a remarkable 32 Cheltenham Festival winners.
As ever, there is a new kid on the block this season, with Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle winner At Fishers Cross likely to head to this race.
His trainer Rebecca Curtis may be a relative Cheltenham rookie, however the horse’s owner JP McManus is an old-hand and he will be hoping that this horse can be the “new Baracouda”.
However one statistic is very much against him; no winner of that race, which was introduced in 2005, has won the World Hurdle the following year.