Perfection in equine form; A phrase that is so readily used within our sport, yet one that doesn't even begin to depict the being of Paul Nicholls' long distance Champion hurdler, Big Buck's.
The unmistakeable sight of Big Buck's and his sheepskin noseband has been a constant vision of perfection at Newbury Racecourse for the last four years. With eighteen consecutive victories now to his name, five of those had previously come at the Berkshire track, with Saturday's victory in the Long Distance Hurdle to be his sixth.
Taking on a traditionally slim field of rivals, Big Buck's defence of the Long Distance Hurdle would see him take on just three rivals as the overwhelming 1/12 favourite, with one of those being his stable mate, Five Dream.
With the Nicholls pair matching each other stride for stride from the outset, their rivals Fox Appeal and Reve de Sivola sat just behind the pace for the majority of the race. However, as Big Buck's and Five Dream began to inject an unhurried increase of pace into the race, Reve de Sivola quickly came under a rapid sense of urging, eventually dropping off the pace and seemingly unlikely to trouble any of his rivals.
As the runners headed towards the final few flights of hurdles and into the home straight, Noel Fehily and Fox Appeal took the notable decision to deviate towards the near-side rail and away from the Nicholls' duo. As the crowd momentarily gasped at the sight of Fox Appeal seemingly hurrying along the near-side rail to challenge, the temporary belief that Big Buck's could be overturned on his seasonal reappearance was overturned in a matter of strides.
Coming to the last hurdle, Big Buck's and his superiority was there for all to see, instigating a rapturous round of applause as Big Buck's and Ruby Walsh ambled towards the winning post for yet another victory at Newbury Racecourse. Reve de Sivola, whom had looked outpaced with the injection of pace around the home bend, surged from the second-last hurdle to the line to claim a deserved second place over his rivals without challenging the reigning champion.
"He's a wonderful horse and he's bombproof" said Walsh, whom has been aboard Big Buck's for sixteen of his eighteen consecutive victories, "He's a bit of an oddball, but I suppose all geniuses are the same. As soon as he got on the track today he came alive and travelled beautifully"
Not since 2008 at this very meeting has Big Buck's tasted defeat. Having surged towards the leaders in the 2008 Hennessy Gold Cup over fences, Big Buck's was to put in a catastrophic jumping error at the last fence that year to unseat jockey Sam Thomas and end his chances of victory. Had Big Buck's not have unshipped Thomas that year, his reverting back to hurdles looks likely not to have occurred and, instead, a path towards races such as the Cheltenham Gold Cup look far more likely.
Such is the nature of the beast, Big Buck's reverting back to hurdles has seen the nine year old son of Cadoudal flourish over the smaller obstacles and breathe new life and excitement into the long-distance hurdles division. A four-time winner of the Cheltenham World Hurdle at the Festival, Big Buck's now looks on target for his fifth victory in the race.
"He is very professional and that will put him on target for the Grade One [Long Walk Hurdle] at Ascot in three weeks" said Champion Trainer, Paul Nicholls, "He looks better than he did at any stage last year and Ruby says you can jump off and ride him any way you like now. You can ride him from the front if you like - the better the race, the better he is, that's the thing".
With his seasonal reappearance done and dusted, the long-distance hurdling division once again looks at the mercy of the imperious Big Buck's.
Photo Courtesy of Emma-Louise Kerwin (Goodtosoft.co.uk)