Big Bucks brave but beaten on his return in the Cleeve Hurdle
Big Buck's lost his unbeaten run over hurdles when he was relegated into a narrow third by shock winner Knockara Beau and At Fishers Cross in the galliardhomes.com Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham.
Paul Nicholls' champion staying hurdler had been off the track for 420 days with injury, but the 11-year-old was still the 6-5 favourite to beat a classy field in the Grade Two contest.
New jockey Sam Twiston-Davies surprisingly adopted more forceful tactics than had been the case in the past and the pair found themselves in front with fully a mile to run.
Boston Bob, Reve De Sivola and At Fishers Cross all stacked up behind him, with 66-1 chance Knockara Beau going almost unnoticed as Big Buck's began to tire after the last but it was George Charlton's Cheltenham veteran who began to close.
Tony McCoy galvanised At Fishers Cross and along with Knockara Beau they claimed Big Buck's 100 yards from the line with Knockara Beau getting the verdict by a short head.
Nicholls said of Big Buck's: "I'm delighted with him, he travelled with all his old zest and jumped well, but he just got a little tired after the back of the last.
"It's very testing ground and we could easily have taken him out and saved him for another day, but I was desperate to get a run into him before the World Hurdle.
"This was only the second time he'd been on grass since his injury, I wanted another racecourse gallop but the ground wouldn't allow it.
"That will improve him enormously. I'm thrilled, I would obviously have liked to have won, but that will put him bang on for his next run.
"I said to Sam to be positive on him and if he got tired, he got tired."
Twiston-Davies said: "When he takes them on again in the World Hurdle he'll run a massive race.
"Everyone expects so much of this horse because he'd won 18 on the bounce but he'd had a year off and he needed the run as much as any horse would.
"He'll come on from that today, he'll run a massive race in the World Hurdle, I promise you that - he felt very special, as we all know he is."