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Nicholls confident Big Buck’s can rule the World for a fifth time

Trainer Paul Nicholls believes World Hurdle favourite Big Buck’s gives him his best chance of success at the Cheltenham Festival.

The 11-year-old, who won the race four times between 2009 and 2012, missed the race last year through injury and lost his 18-race unbeaten run on his return to action in the Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham last month.

He finished third that day behind shock winner Knockara Beau, but Nicholls believes he has come on significantly for the run – his first in 14 months.

“He came in late and we did all we could to get him ready for his first run,” said Nicholls. “When they have had leg trouble, you do have to train them a bit with the handbrake on so he was always going to need the run.

“Sam (Twiston-Davies) rode him exactly how I wanted him to at Cheltenham – this horse wins because he’s a stayer and all he did that day was stay. Ruby (Walsh) rang me that evening and said he would have ridden the horse exactly the same way.

“Big Buck’s lost 10 kilos after Cheltenham and it tightened him up and I think he looks absolutely fantastic. He had a week off afterwards and there’s only one day we want him back to his best for. He’s a much better horse on decent ground so I hope it’s not too soft. He’s my best chance at the Festival this year.”

He is currently the 5/2 favourite with Coral for the World Hurdle, in which Nicholls is also set to be represented by former JCB Triumph Hurdle winners Celestial Halo and Zarkandar.

“Celestial Halo is due to run at Haydock on Saturday and he’ll improve for what he does there because we’ve been held up a bit. We need to give him the race to get him back for the World Hurdle,” said Nicholls.

“He’s been a fantastic Cheltenham Horse, he won the Triumph and finished second in the World Hurdle and went on to win in France last year.

“Zarkandar is also in at Wincanton on Saturday and he’ll run in the World Hurdle. He always comes alive in the spring, he could go to Aintree, Punchestown and maybe France. He looks really well at the moment. He’s bred to stay and Celestial Halo did the same thing last year. I was never convinced he’d stay but he did and you don’t know until you try.”

Celestial Halo is 14/1 with Coral for the World Hurdle, while Zarkandar is 10/1.