Brilliant Big Buck's turns on style to prove highlight of Ruby's Ascot treble
What else is there to say about champion staying hurdler Big Buck's?
At Ascot on Saturday, he stretched his unbeaten run over timber in Britain to 14 with perhaps his most impressive success to date in winning a third Long Walk Hurdle, surpassing the legendary Bula's record in the process.
Because of bad weather, even though he was winning the race for a third time, this was actually the first occasion Big Buck's had raced right-handed since moving from France. The handful of doubters still out there used that as a possible weakness before the race, but after it surely even they were forced to admit there really are no weaknesses.
Already the winner of three World Hurdles at the Cheltenham Festival and still only eight, he looks nailed-on to beat the late Inglis Drever's milestone and make it four in March.
Trainer Paul Nicholls and owner Andy Stewart have stated he will never be asked to jump a fence again and all that could be asked of him is a step down in trip as, bar Hurricane Fly, the two-mile hurdling division also looks weak.
"He's such a character and you've really got to manage him, making sure he's never left alone and that sort of thing," said Nicholls.
"He won't ever go over fences now, he doesn't like them and I wouldn't want to risk him. He is too good at that job. It's funny, if the Hennessy hadn't happened who knows what I would have done with Kauto Star and Denman around."
Ruby Walsh has struck up a great partnership with the champion and, along with Nicholls, they combined to dominate the day in their usual weekend fashion, with The Minack taking advantage of a terrible mistake by Vino Griego at the second-last fence in the Silver Cup Handicap Chase.
"He's a real stayer and I suppose he could have an entry in the Grand National," said Nicholls.
One of the lesser-known members of Nicholls' string, Aerial had earlier finished clear in the Graduation Chase and could be prepared for the Kempton Park Chase in February.
Alan King's stable has been in fine form over recent days and his operation made a welcome return to the bigger stage in The Ladbroke as Raya Star battled gamely to finish half a length clear of Rigidity and Alarazi. As well as for King, it was a champagne moment for Wayne Hutchinson, deputising for the injured Robert Thornton, ahead of the stable's Christmas party.
The conditions at Haydock were desperate for the Tommy Whittle Chase, in which Colin Tizzard's novice Cannington Brook held off Our Island to provide Tom O'Brien with a valuable spare ride.