Saturday 16 December 2017

Nicholl's 'really looking forward' to big showdown

Trainer Paul Nicholls. Photo: Getty Images
Trainer Paul Nicholls. Photo: Getty Images

Paul Nicholls believes it will take an "exceptional performance" from another horse to prevent Big Buck's making Cheltenham history by claiming a third successive victory in the Ladbrokes World Hurdle.

When the eight-year-old was given a spin over hurdles at Prestbury Park on New Year's Day 2009, having failed to complete in the Hennessy Gold Cup, not even the champion trainer could have expected the subsequent success.

He is unbeaten in his last 10 starts, taking in two stayers' hurdle titles along the way, and he now bids to become the first horse ever to win three on the spin.

Lying in wait is David Pipe's fast-improving Cleeve Hurdle hero Grands Crus, who many believe will provide Big Buck's with his stiffest ever task, but Nicholls remains in confident mood.

"He's fresh and well and where I want him to be. I was amazed when he won at Newbury over Christmas as he blew a house down afterwards," said the Ditcheat handler.

"We've really got stuck into him and he's had a racecourse gallop. He's fitter now than ever. If Grands Crus or anyone beats him and he runs up to his best, it will be something exceptional.

"He's won 10 hurdles, most of them Graded, and I can't say much more about him apart from that he's a winner.

"He's going to take some beating and if Grands Crus beats us then he's a better horse than us, but I'd be surprised.

"It would take an awesome performance for a horse to beat him, but it will be a race to savour. He's in better form than his two races earlier this season when he was really only half-fit.

"He won't mind the good ground, and I don't know about Grands Crus. There's pressure on Tom Scudamore to get the tactics right and I know Ruby (Walsh) can't wait to ride him, he sees it as the highlight of his week.

"We're really looking forward to it."

The owner of Big Buck's, Andy Stewart, is also relishing the prospect of a race that has been billed as a match, and admits Grands Crus is likely to give his charge plenty to think about.

"It's great that it's a decent race. I was very impressed with Grands Crus in the Cleeve Hurdle and it will be exciting," said Stewart.

"We would like to make history and become the first to win three consecutive World Hurdles but if we don't, that's racing.

"We've never had him better - he's absolutely flying.

"Grands Crus is rated 169 and Big Buck's is 5lb ahead of that, I think that's about right. Grands Crus is a young horse improving and he's the main danger.

"If Grands Crus or any other horse beats us, I'll be the first to congratulate them. We've got a race on our hands this year."

Ruby Walsh will be back in the saddle having missed the gelding's first two victories this season due to injury and he has questioned whether Grands Crus will be as effective on the likely quick surface.

"He's got some engine. He's 10 from 10 over hurdles and I'm hoping he's still unbeaten after Thursday," the jockey told Racing UK.

"He is a bit quirky. He doesn't like to be in front too long and he lugs to his left a bit. He is a bit of a strange horse, but he's an incredible racehorse.

"He has the pace to be ridden handy but also the ability to stay three miles over hurdles and the World Hurdle is a tough race. They don't go much slower than in the Champion Hurdle but you have to go for an extra mile.

"It looks a better World Hurdle than last year, but he is a bit special. He is a bit more straightforward as he has got a bit older and doesn't idle as much.

"Grands Crus put up a very good performance last time out, but I wonder, is he a bit ground dependant?

"He seemed to act really well in soft last time, but he looks a really relentless galloper and David Pipe seems really keen on his chances."

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