10:33am Thursday 17th March 2011
By Tom O'Ryan
Big Buck’s, who has not tasted defeat in his ten races, can win the World Hurdle for the third consecutive year at Cheltenham this afternoon.
Although he is expected to face a stern challenge from rising star Grands Crus, a talented front-runner, Big Buck’s is fancied to have too much class for his David Pipe-trained rival.
Trained by Paul Nicholls, Big Buck’s has proved the outstanding staying hurdler of recent seasons and has two wins from two races this season without being seriously pressed.
Grands Crus, winner of the Cleeve Hurdle with ease on this course in January, has emerged as a potent threat.
But his bold attacking style is expected to play to the strengths of Big Buck’s, who loves to play a stalking role and come late on the scene, as he did in this race last year when he beat Time For Rupert after starting at odds-on.
With Ruby Walsh in the saddle, Big Buck’s looks set to enjoy yet more glory at the Festival.
Nicholls and Walsh can also take the featured Ryanair Chase with Poquelin, who is selected to step up on his second to Albertas Run in this Grade 1 contest 12 months ago.
Nicholls has purposely kept this gelding fresh for the Festival and, given that he’s a four-times Cheltenham winner, Poquelin has plenty going for him. Albertas Run is in the field again, but he has endured a frustrating season and may not be in quite the same form as he was last term.
Wishfull Thinking makes plenty of appeal in the opening Jewson Novices’ Chase.
Three times successful over hurdles last season, he has made a useful transfer to chasing and was a winner on this course on his latest start when he beat a decent field in the style of a potentially high-class performer.
Robinson Collonges and Irish challenger Loosen My Load will not be short of supporters in this event, but Wishfull Thinking is held in high regard by trainer Philip Hobbs and is fancied to give Richard Johnson a winning ride.
The Pertemps Hurdle Final looks wide open and while Sivota, the mount of Walsh and representing the in-form Willie Mullins, is expected to run a huge race, preference is for Alfie Spinner from the Nick Williams stable.
Runner-up on his last two starts, Alfie Spinner has turned in rock solid displays each time. He is expected to be well suited to this stiff uphill finish. Daryl Jacob has the mount.
The Byrne Group Handicap Chase is another competitive race, but one horse not to be underestimated is Crescent Island, trained by Nigel Twiston-Davies, who has such a fine record on his local course.
Twiston-Davies produced Crescent Island to win handsomely at Wetherby last month after the gelding had missed the whole of last season with injury.
The eight-year-old finished fifth in the Racing Post Chase at Kempton on his only subsequent outing, and did well considering he was all but on the floor after an early mistake.
He is sportingly napped to pop up here at fancy odds under Paddy Brennan.
David Pipe has been making positive noises about the chances of Junior, who goes for the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup.
The eight-year-old is expected to go well for Jamie Codd, who won this race two years ago for Norton trainer John Quinn aboard Character Building.
1.30 Wishfull Thinking, 2.05 Alfie Spinner, 2.40 Poquelin, 3.20 Big Buck’s, 4.00 Crescent Island (NAP), 4.40 Junior, 5.15 Plato.
Today’s other meetings: Hexham, Towcester and Wolverhampton.
1.55 Edgeworth, 2.30 Fifth In Line, 3.05 Old English, 3.45 Protractor, 4.25 Zafeen’s Pearl, 5.05 Sammy Alexander, 5.40 Bestwecan.
Tomorrow’s other meetings: Cheltenham, Fakenham and Wolverhampton.
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