Memories of Big Buck's as Paisley Park's rating rises
Emma Lavelle's seven-year-old has shown dramatic improvement this season
For a few years running, there was a fool-proof strategy to get back in the game if you were having a bad Cheltenham Festival. That was to simply lump on Big Buck's in the Stayers' Hurdle (3.30) on the Thursday. Trained by Paul Nicholls' he won the race four years straight from 2009 to 2012.
A real genuine sort with a big heart, he was the greatest staying hurdler of all time and clocked up 20 career wins over timber from 30 races. Eighteen of those wins were consecutive (a record equalled by Altior yesterday) which proves how reliable he was, and it was a shame he picked up a leg injury which kept him away from the track for 420 days.
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He wasn't the same when he came back, and lost two races at Cheltenham including the 2014 Stayers' Hurdle before being retired. Baracouda and Inglis Drever also won this race more than once although we won't have a repeat winner in 2019 with last year's victor Penhill picking up an injury while preparing for the Festival.
Flashy I doubt we'll ever see the likes of Big Buck's again, but today's favourite Paisley Park is a very decent horse in his own right and is fast becoming one of the best stayers we've seen in recent years. It's far too early to compare Paisley Park with Big Buck's, but he does have a similar running style in that he's not too flashy but gets the job done.
Like Big Buck's, he can hit a lazy spot mid-race which causes alarm when you've backed him, but he always manages to grind it out and get the job done. On one occasion, Emma Lavelle's seven-year-old hit 129/1 in-running on Betfair in a stayers' handicap at Haydock, but found plenty after the last.
I'll try my best not to panic if he hits a flat spot mid-race today although that's easier said than done, especially as it's going to be my biggest bet of the day. Now rated 168, his improvement over the past year has been striking, and he was rated just 140 when picking up his first win of the season in October.
He followed up that handicap success with another, despite going up half a stone, and he later proved that he has what it takes at the top level by winning the Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot. A Grade Two victory in the Cleeve Hurdle last time means he has those important letters CD beside his name on the card as a course and distance winner, and I reckon the 15/8 available yesterday evening is a great price for a horse likely to improve even further.
No doubt Faugheen will make it a decent race, and a string of Grade One victories including the 2015 Champion Hurdle is highly respected form, but now aged eleven he's got no more room to improve and is rated 1lb lower than the selection at 167, having reached a high of 174 in 2015/'16.
In the opener, Reel Steel is tipped to land the spoils at the expense of Defi Du Seuil following some smart displays over fences.