A MOUTH-watering duel between Big Buck's and the Willie Mullins-trained Quevega is "highly unlikely" to take place, according to the owner of Paul Nicholls' champion stayer.
Big Buck's barely came off the bridle when securing his 18th consecutive victory in the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury on Saturday and he is already odds-on to win the World Hurdle at Cheltenham for a remarkable fifth year on the bounce.
With challengers to his crown few and far between, some have suggested that Quevega should tackle the mighty stayer, but Mullins wants to aim her at a fifth successive Cheltenham win in the David Nicholson Mares' Hurdle.
The only conceivable place the pair could meet is at the Punchestown Festival, but Big Buck's owner Andy Stewart does not expect his charge to make the end-of-season trip to Ireland.
"Ruby (Walsh) obviously rides Big Buck's and Quevega and I just don't think it will happen," said Stewart.
"Quevega is as good a staying mare as I have seen, but I think it's highly unlikely we would go to Punchestown. Willie has said Zaidpour could have a crack at Big Buck's after his good win in the Hatton's Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse, so we look forward to that.
"Big Buck's has won 18 races in a row now, certainly none of my other horses have come close to doing that, and we look forward to going to Ascot. It's unlikely he'll run in the Cleeve Hurdle in January, I don't think there's a lot to be gained by going there, so we'll get him right at his best to try to win a fifth World Hurdle at the Festival.
"After that we'll look at Aintree, but the dates are compressed this season so we'll have to see."
Reflecting on Saturday's Newbury romp for Big Buck's, the owner said: "The only thing I would say is that he probably didn't beat a lot, but Ruby was very happy with him and said he never came out of second gear. It was a nice comeback and that should leave him spot on for Ascot on December 22."
Looking ahead to this weekend, 2011 Grand National winner Ballabriggs is among 23 entries for the Betfred Becher Handicap Chase at Aintree. Donald McCain's 11-year-old, sixth behind Neptune Collonges in the National last season, could be joined by stablemate Fabalu.
The last two winners of this race, Hello Bud and West End Rocker, feature in the list for Saturday's feature. Dessie Hughes has won this race twice in recent years, with Black Apalachi in 2008 and Vic Venturi in 2009, and the Curragh trainer might be represented by In Compliance this time. The 12-year-old has completed the course in all of his three previous visits to the Liverpool venue.
Sixth in the Topham Chase in April 2010, he finished a distant 13th to Ballabriggs in the 2011 National and was a creditable fifth last season.
"We'll have a look and see what's in the race," said Hughes. "He's been around there twice in the National, so he knows the place."
Among a fascinating list of staying chasers are Alfie Sherrin, Join Together, Planet Of Sound, Saint Are and Swing Bill.