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Main rivals could clear the way for Big Buck’s World Hurdle romp

Despite not being seen on a racecourse since beating Reve De Sivola at Newbury back in December 2012, four-time World Hurdle victor Big Buck’s continues to gatecrash racing’s front pages ahead of another crack at the Cheltenham Festival .

Paul Nicholls explained recently that stable jockey Daryl Jacob played a large part in his boss’ decision not to book him for the ride, as the 30-year-old horseman regards the mount as a ‘poisoned chalice’ after former employee Ruby Walsh steered Big Buck’s to 16 of his 20 career hurdle wins.

That won’t curb Sam Twiston-Davies’ enthusiasm as the youngster picks up the plum spare ride of the Festival on board the 9/4 favourite.

Nine months prior to his last outing, the Stewart family-owned gelding overtook Inglis Drever’s record of three World Hurdle wins in a thrilling finish against Voler La Vedette, becoming the greatest staying hurdler in history in the eyes of most nag watchers.

A fifth Festival Thursday win was denied him last season, as Solwhit took advantage of an injury that ruled Big Buck’s out for half of the campaign following the nine-length procession at Newbury.

In 2014 the tables have been turned, but Charles Byrne’s stable star’s recurring fitness problems are just one reason why Nicholls’ returning 10-year-old is a cracking price to take back the race that made his name this March.

The first four in the betting range between 9/4-7/1, with Willie Mullins’ classy unbeaten inmate Annie Power, Jonjo O’Neill five-year-old More Of That and another Mullins charge – five-time Mares’ Hurdle victor Quevega – rated by Coral as Big Buck’s main dangers.

However, both of the County Carlow trainer’s chances are more likely to run in other races at the festival.

Quevega is well-fancied by shrewd racing watchers to compete in and win the David Nicholson sponsored event for the sixth year on the spin, while Annie Power’s owner Rich Ricci has stated his preference to run the mare in the Champion Hurdle, for which she is a 10/1 poke in a wide-open field.

That would leave just More Of That among the main contenders to Big Buck’s throne and while the six-year-old has won on all four starts in his short career so far, the O’Neill horse has never so much as run at the Festival and has a monumental experience gap to bridge with Nicholls’ ace.

Big Buck’s would become the first horse over the age of 10 to win the World Hurdle since Crimson Embers’ second victory at 11 in 1986, but with the path ahead of him clearing, it could take a massively improving outsider to stop such an eventuality.