Big Buck’s landed his fourth Ladbrokes World Hurdle at Cheltenham on Thursday, becoming the most successful horse in the history of the Stayers’ championship. Although made to dig very deep by Irish mare Voler La Vedette, the nine year-old supplied Paul Nicholls and Ruby Walsh with their second winners of the festival.
Five Dream, stablemate of the winner, and Cross Kennon set the pace and led for much of the first circuit. Big Buck’s was notably more prominent in the race. Down the back straight for the final time however, the race began to unfold, as the impeccable jumping of Big Buck’s edged him even closer to the front. At the top of the hill, Walsh sent him on.
By this time, the early pace-setters had dropped away, as Oscar Whisky, Smad Place and Voler La Vedette moved up to challenge the perennial winner. Oscar Whisky, a horse of Champion Hurdle quality having placed third last year, and unbeaten over two and a half miles, was seen as the biggest potential threat to Big Buck’s yet, but found little and perhaps didn’t stay. Smad Place became outpaced but rallied again towards the end to take a fantastic third for Alan King and Robert Thornton. At only five, he is one for connections to look forward to next year.
That left Voler La Vedette. The Colm Murphy trained mare was travelling much the better of any horse and looked to have even Big Buck’s covered on the run to the last. Yet, as Big Buck’s wandered left, Voler La Vedette switched right towards the final hurdle. Landing almost together, it was Big Buck’s who eventually pulled the race out of the bag, repelling the challenge by almost two lengths in the end.
Arguably the hardest he has ever had to work to land his title, Big Buck’s is best priced at 2/1 for next year. Voler La Vedette, who was notably being given a 7lb mare allowance, can be backed at 10/1 to gain revenge.
In winning his fourth title, Big Buck’s surpasses the hugely popular Inglis Drever at the top of the Stayers’ tree.
Nicky Henderson’s good Festival run continued as Riverside Theatre grabbed a compelling Ryanair Chase, just holding off dual hero Albertas Run who ran an unbelievable race again in second. It was a Henderson employee who came out best though, reportedly winning £1 million on a five horse ante-post accumulator that culminated with Riverside Theatre, owned by famous actor James Nesbitt.
Willie Mullins remains the only Irish trainer to have emerged victorious for the week, as Sir Des Champs took the Jewson Novices’ Chase. It means the Irish are enduring one of their worst meetings on record, with just three winners compared to Great Britain’s seventeen.
Tina Cook, Beijing Olympics bronze medallist, took the St Patrick’s Derby in aid of Cancer Research UK on her brother’s Pascha Bere. She will compete in London 2012 where she will hope to improve on her 2008 haul.
Image Courtesy of The Guardian.