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Big Buck’s set to return on massive day for the Nicholls team

Trainer Paul Nicholls has been through some testing times in recent years with the responsibility of looking after national treasures like Kauto Star and Denman. Big Buck’s is right up with those two great steeplechasers having won the World Hurdle four times and he returns on Saturday after more than a year off the course.

There would be added concern for any racehorse returning after such a lengthy absence but Big Buck’s is defending an unbeaten run of 18 consecutive races. The pressure is on Nicholls to have the horse fit enough to win and consolidate his position as favourite for the big race again in March.

There is also a change of jockey with Sam Twiston-Davies stepping into the shoes of Ruby Walsh and there are some serious opponents lining up against him. Nicholls also has runners on trial for the Triumph Hurdle and Cheltenham Gold Cup but this is the race that is most likely to give him palpitations.

The last time Big Buck’s ran was at Newbury in December 2012 when he strolled nine lengths clear of Reve De Sivola in a hack canter. The runner-up has since gone on to win two Long Walk Hurdles, a Grade 1 in France and the Cleeve Hurdle 12 months ago.

At Fishers Cross was expected to make a serious contender for the World Hurdle crown this year after winning all six races for Rebecca Curtis last season. His victories at the Cheltenham festival and Aintree marked him down as a quality staying hurdler but things have not gone to plan.

A bad blunder cost him any chance at Newbury and he was a beaten horse when unseating Tony McCoy at Ascot last time out. He has since been receiving special attention at home and this will be the acid test regarding his Cheltenham prospects.

Boston Bob also carries a threat having won impressively over hurdles at Punchestown on New Year’s Eve. He was among the leading novice chasers last season but will relish the soft ground and will be out to make this a thorough test.

Knockara Beau and Quartz De Thaix complete the six-runner field with the race due off at 3.35.