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Cheltenham: Kauto Star and Denman set standard: Paul Nicholls

"If he could jump a fence he'd be up there with Denman and Kauto Star, one of the best I've had." So said trainer Paul Nicholls of the immortal Big Buck's, a freshly-minted retiree.

It is hard to conjure a more meaningful testimonial than that. Over hurdles he was peerless, a Cheltenham rock star as good as any stayer in the modern era. Yesterday was one reach too many, the great champion run out of it by fresher legs.

There was no disappointment or sadness at the outcome. The opposite in fact. It was enough that owner Andy Stewart and Nicholls were able to see this still magnificent animal home safely.

"We couldn't ask him to run again," said Nicholls. "He's been a wonderful horse, a legend, as good as any I have had. He's been awesome for the sport. We are mightily proud of him. He has run a good race today but did not have the legs of old. Halfway round I could see he wasn't going quite so fluently.

"I'm delighted he has finished in one piece. I'd have hated to see him getting beat and something happen to him. It's the right decision at the right time. To win four World Hurdles is a record, and says it all. All the days he won were great while his fourth World Hurdle was amazing. He will have an honourable retirement."

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