Sunday 17 December 2017

Time to make a few Buck’s

Ruby set for more World domination

Julian Muscat

Dominant staying hurdlers have an aura of invincibility. No horse underlines the fact better than Big Buck's, which has won 10 successive races since he reverted to hurdles from fences two seasons ago.

One more victory would see him carve a slice of history as the only horse to land the stayers' championship in three successive seasons.

It will take something out of the ordinary to stop him, although a groundswell of respected opinion holds that Grands Crus will prove his master in the Ladbrokes World Hurdle (3.20) at Cheltenham today.

We can only wish the doubters the best of luck. They are certainly going to need it. Big Buck's doesn't remotely resemble a horse in decline. No horse has got within a length of him for more than two years, and he has relatively few miles on the clock. In that time he has been so dominant that only Time For Rupert has been able to stretch him.

Although Big Buck's cannot rule forever, I'll be surprised if Grands Crus is the one to supplant him.

David Pipe's horse is undeniably progressive but his tendency to race with the choke out bodes ill in a race where conserving energy is paramount.

For that reason, Mourad is preferred in the secondary race to chase Big Buck's home. Willie Mullins' horse, which is developing into a fine stayer in his own right, can oblige forecast punters in a contest of limited betting appeal.

The Big Buck's alliance of Paul Nicholls and Ruby Walsh has good prospects of winning the Ryanair Chase (2.40) with Poquelin, which beat all bar Albertas Run in this race 12 months ago.

Indeed, Poquelin's victory on his last start here in December, when he accounted for Great Endeavour, saw a career-best performance from the eight-year-old.

Nevertheless, Albertas Run beat him decisively last year, and despite some uninspiring recent form figures, he looks a live player under Tony McCoy today. To back him requires a giant leap of faith, however, and with Poquelin undeserving of his status as a strong favourite, it makes sense to look elsewhere within a race that has thrown up some decent-priced winners.

J'y Vole, which finished third last year, will be a popular selection to continue the Mullins stable's fine Festival to date, but the mare was unable to capitalise on a winning opportunity at Thurles last time.

She too, leaves something to be desired, so in the circumstances, Gauvain is preferred.

Prior to losing his way, Gauvain showed plenty for Charlie Mann's stable before his transfer to Nick Williams last summer. And his new trainer was quick to revive the fires, saddling the gelding to run out a ready winner in decent company over two miles here in November.

Although Gauvain's two subsequent efforts saw him outclassed behind Master Minded, they coincided with a lean spell for the Williams stable. Lo and behold, a change in the stable fortunes last month saw Gauvain return to form at Ascot, where he chased home King George runner-up Riverside Theatre. In the process he showed that this intermediate distance holds no fears for him.

A reproduction of that effort would make him attractively priced at 14/1.


One of the most overblown statistical quirks was finally laid to rest on Tuesday when Hurricane Fly, a son of Montjeu, outclassed his opponents in the Champion Hurdle. The know-alls who derided the progeny of this top-class Flat stallion, which had yet to sire a winner at the Cheltenham Festival, were obliged to eat their words.

For their sake we must hope it hasn't sated their appetite, because Noble Prince, another by Montjeu, has excellent prospects of winning the Jewson Novices' Chase (1.30).

Paul Nolan has chosen to take the low road with Noble Prince, which just failed to nail Realt Dubh most recently at Leopardstown. And with Realt Dubh franking the form with his fine third place in the Irish Independent Arkle Trophy Chase on Tuesday, Nolan's pragmatism can gain its due reward.

Cheltenham's better ground will suit Noble Prince, which showed a liking for this when a close-up fifth in last year's County Hurdle over two miles. Conversely, stamina seemed to fail him when he was tried over three miles next time.

This two mile trip looks ideal, and despite Realt Dubh's recent form-boost, the presence of Wishfull Thinking and Robinson Collonges, both well fancied by connections, should ensure a decent payout.

Henry de Bromhead's Loosen My Load also enters calculations but Robinson Collonges, which ran better than his finishing position suggests when raised in class here in January, looks the bigger threat.

The three other races today are all handicaps that promote a sense of vertigo in endeavouring to resolve them. Perhaps the best chance is held by Alfie Spinner in the Pertemps Final Handicap Hurdle (2.05).

Alfie Spinner is vulnerable to anything specifically laid out for this trappy handicap -- which includes just about every one of his 23 opponents.

However, races of this ilk often fall to consistent types like the selection, which has been crying out for this three-mile trip.

The ground was bottomless when he first attempted it in January, and with less demanding conditions assured here, he can justify each-way support.

Another with each-way claims, this time in the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Handicap Chase (4.40), is Faasel. This one has undoubtedly been laid out for a race in which he was just denied by Aintree Grand National favourite Ballabriggs 12 months ago.

Then, as now, Faasel came into the race a fresh horse, and trainer David Pipe can be relied on to have the enigmatic 10-year-old primed for another bold showing. What confidence one can take in his chance is endorsed the booking of Ryan Mahon, who has been the amateur find of the season.

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