Cheltenham: Smart money on Big Buck’s to make it four in row
it was an Irish voice that led the three cheers in the winner's circle for Big Buck's after he confirmed his matchless class with an unprecedented third successive World Hurdle.
For though the eight-year-old is trained on English shores, in Somerset by Paul Nicholls, above all the Irish appreciate a good horse. And this marathon man is a properly good one, easily the best hurdler in training, Tuesday's new two-mile champion Hurricane Fly not excepted.
And, of course, he is ridden by one of their own, Ruby Walsh. But the rider, too, gave it to the horse. As appreciative roars of his name rolled down from the grandstands in the wake of what appeared an ideally-executed length and three-quarter defeat of Grands Crus, Walsh shook his head and pointed with both forefingers to his mount
.“It wasn't me, it was him,” he said. “I dropped my stick before the last. A schoolboy error. I was watching the others and not concentrating on what I was doing. But he's a wonderful horse and he got me out of trouble.”
Although by Walsh's standards the ride he gave the odds-on shot lacked absolute perfection, it was exquisite to watch nonetheless.
Walsh kept Big Buck's close to the sedate enough gallop set by Cross Kennon, and was the first to commit for the run to the line.
The risk was that he would become the target, instead of the arrow. After the Irish pair Fiveforthree and eventual third Mourad took aim and missed, the final challenge came from Grands Crus and, for a stride after the last, the battle the market had hinted at was on.
But, really, only for a stride. Once Walsh asked firmly, with hands, legs and voice, Big Buck's lengthened his imperious stride.
“I knew it would be tactical and that Grands Crus would follow me,” added Walsh. “And the guys riding against him had their tactics spot on, but it just didn't matter what they did.
“The horse has matured so much mentally that he no longer needs to be in behind. In a hurdle race he's as unbeatable as they come. He's an aeroplane.”
It was the 11th successive hurdles victory for Big Buck’s — he is only 2-1 to add a fourth crown here next year.
“There was more pressure today than before,” said Nicholls. “I was worried about the fast ground, and slow pace, and Grands Crus. But he simply showed his class.”
After the opening Jewson Novices Chase, in which Noble Prince powered up the hill to give Irish yards their record-equalling 10th winner of the meeting, confidence among the shamrock-wearing massed ranks that welcomed the winner was so high that internecine banter broke out.
Cries of “Come on Wexford” to welcome winning trainer Paul Nolan, of that county, were countered, amid gales of glee, by “No, come on Kerry.”
But after taking six from seven the previous afternoon, that was as good as it got for the raiders on St Patrick's Day.
After winning on Noble Prince, Tony McCoy doubled his score for the week on Albertas Run, trained a horseshoe's throw from the track by Jonjo O'Neill, holding off Kalahari King to take a second Ryanair Chase.