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Old Warriors still have plenty to offer at Cheltenham

There were important trials at Cheltenham and Leopardstown over the weekend but it was the old stagers that grabbed the headlines. The main talking points were the shock defeat of Big Buck’s on Saturday and a fourth Irish Champion Hurdle for Hurricane Fly on Sunday.

Trainer Paul Nicholls was delighted to report that Big Buck’s returned in great shape after his first run for 420 days. His unbeaten run stretching back 18 races may have come to an end but he still looks the one that they all have to beat in the World Hurdle.

Hurricane Fly successfully defended his unbeaten record at Leopardstown when repelling the challenge of Our Conor by a length and a half. Willie Mullins had admitted to some anxiety over the bruised foot that the ten-year-old suffered in midweek but he shrugged it off to cement his position at the head of the Champion Hurdle market.

Although The Giant Bolster is not yet in the veteran’s category, he had been looking a shadow of the horse that was placed in two previous Gold Cups. He showed that he is capable of featuring again this season by winning the Argento Chase in fine style from the favourite Rocky Creek.

The runner-up won’t be going to Cheltenham judged on this performance but he could develop into a leading fancy for the Grand National. He may be joined at Aintree by The Rainbow Hunter who sprang a 25-1 surprise in the Sky Bet Chase at Doncaster.

Other talking points on a busy weekend were the victories of Annie Power and Le Rocher. Willie Mullins has kept his options open with Annie Power but she would not look out of place in the Champion Hurdle line-up judged on her effortless win on Saturday.

The opposition may not have amounted to much but she was untroubled by the drop back in distance and recorded a tenth successive victory. Le Rocher looks sure to make a bold bid in the Triumph Hurdle after a convincing win in Cheltenham’s opening event and is now 8-1 joint-favourite for the juvenile crown.

There were also trials for the Arkle Trophy on both sides of the water. Alan King’s Valdez is 14-1 after scoring at Doncaster while Trifolium earned a quote of 8-1 by seeing off Mozoltov and Felix Yonger at Leopardstown.