Big Buck's enjoys Exeter spin
Big Buck's, the winner of four Ladbrokes World Hurdles at the Cheltenham Festival, came through a workout before racing at Exeter with flying colours.
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The Paul Nicholls-trained superstar worked with Cedre Bleu, who was ridden by Daryl Jacob, with Ruby Walsh on Big Buck's.
The pair worked over about two miles and while the early pace was nothing two strenuous, it certainly looked stronger than in many public workouts.
As the pace quickened coming out of the back straight, Jacob nudged his mount forward while Walsh sat motionless.
Inside the final furlong Jacob was getting more a little vigorous in the saddle on Cedre Bleu as Big Buck's effortlessly eased his head in front and crossed the line around half a length clear of his stablemate.
Big Buck's will either reappear at Newbury in the Long Distance Hurdle or in the Betfair. Don't Settle For Less "Fixed Brush" Handicap Hurdle at Haydock.
Nicholls told Racing UK: "It was just what he did last year, it was a nice day out for him and doing something different will have done him the world of good.
"It will just help him, he'll lose a few kilos and sharpen him up mentally. He did exactly the same a year ago today and it doesn't do them any harm.
"The other horse would be a little bit behind Big Buck's (fitness-wise) and he'd be a bit behind him in the ratings, too.
"Whatever Big Buck's works with he just cruises along and does it nicely, it was perfect.
"You want him to work with something that is sensible and can go a nice sort of gallop and Cedre Bleu just fitted in nicely. I want to run him at Haydock or Newbury as well.
"It's a very valuable race at Haydock, the brush hurdles won't hurt him and it's an option along with the Newbury race.
"I'm meeting Andy (Stewart, owner) at Cheltenham and we'll have a chat about it then we'll make a plan. It might be that an extra week will do him good, we'll just see what he's like in the next few days and decide, it was an obvious race to have an entry in."
Nicholls went on: "It's on ongoing challenge with older horses like him to keep them in good form and hopefully keep him winning.
"We are always trying a few little different things with him to try and keep him sweet.
"Just watching him going round there I'd say he's as good as he's ever been.
"He still walks his box like mad and one thing and another, but he's a lot more chilled now.
"When he was younger he used to get worried and not eat and be light but it's the opposite now, he eats plenty and keeps plenty of condition on.
"You can see how he worked round there, it was perfect really."
Should Big Buck's head for Merseyside on November 24, he will force all bar two of the other 49 entries out of the handicap.
Only Alan King's Lovcen (10st 2lb), who beat Fingal Bay in a Grade One novice hurdle at Aintree and Emma Lavelle's Fox Appeal (10st), winner of a Pertemps Qualifier at Kempton, would be allowed to run off their correct marks.
Among those out of the handicap are a Grand National winner in Ballabriggs, a former Grade One winner in Reve De Sivola and Cheltenham Festival winners Son Of Flicka and Alfie Sherrin.
Narrow Grand National runner-up Sunnyhillboy could reappear, while Noel Meade's Bat Masterson is the sole Irish possible.