Stick with Big Buck's
Our expert columnist, Channel 4 Racing's Simon Holt, says now is not the time to desert Big Buck's as he bids for a fifth World Hurdle crown.
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This year's Ladbrokes World Hurdle provides an intriguing clash between the old and the new and, while it is easy for the heart to rule the head at Cheltenham, I see no reason to desert BIG BUCK'S in his attempt to win for the fifth time.
At the age of 11, there must be every chance that this staying legend will soon be on the decline but, returning from a near 14-month lay-off, he showed plenty of the old sparkle when narrowly outgunned by Knockara Beau and At Fishers Cross (now 4lbs worse off) in the Cleeve Hurdle here in late January having looked the likely winner until flagging in heavy ground up the hill.
All Big Buck's wins in this race have been achieved on a faster surface and, given those conditions and some expected improvement for that comeback run, he should take a great deal of beating once again.
However, in the unbeaten mare Annie Power, the selection faces perhaps the most formidable rival of his career.
Unextended in most of her races, the Willie Mullins-trained six-year-old is a great talent and the 7lb mares allowance looks more than generous.
However, this will be Annie Power's first attempt at three miles and it says much for her apparent speed that she held an entry in the Champion Hurdle. It will be fascinating to see if she can be as effective at this longer distance in what is a real specialists race.
At Fishers Cross, a novice winner at this meeting last year, seems to be on the mend following the diagnosis of a back problem to explain some poor jumping performances earlier this season and, though not weighted to confirm the placings with Big Buck's on their encounter here in January, AP McCoy will probably ride him with more confidence this time.
McCoy faced a tough decision here in discarding the unbeaten More Of That who has made a tremendous impression in three victories this season but lacks a little bit of experience and is unproven at the trip.
Another possible threat is Rule The World, a good second to The New One in the Neptune last year, and a recent victory at Naas suggests he too is coming to hand, while Big Buck's stable companions Celestial Halo and Salubrious are both capable of running good races.
The Ryanair Chase sets a real poser as Al Ferof and Dynaste appear to be the best horses in the race but have both performed below-par in their latest starts. In fairness to Al Ferof, it was very testing ground at Newbury last time when he was easily outpointed by the mud-loving Harry Topper and he looks a non-stayer at three miles. A return to this shorter trip is certainly what he needs but, having been laid off with an injury before this season, it remains to be seen if the 2011 Supreme Novices' Hurdle winner retains all his ability.
I prefer to take a chance on DYNASTE reproducing his fine second behind Cue Card in the Betfair Chase at Haydock first time out after which he reportedly returned home with a sore back when disappointing in the King George.
David Pipe's grey has always looked smart but he can have the occasional off day and I wasn't convinced he ran to his best when beaten by Benefficient here 12 months ago after which he went on to win at Aintree.
With the stable form looking positive, Dynaste is good enough to win if in top shape over what could be his best trip.
The Pertemps Final offers its usual conundrum but FINGAL BAY is a class act and, although top weighted, does not have to concede too much weight as the handicap is quite compact.
Philip Hobbs' charge made a tremendous comeback from injury at Exeter when beating stable companion If In Doubt and travelled like easily the best horse in that race until understandably getting a little tired after the last in heavy ground.
Fingal Bay looks well treated on his smart novice hurdle form and could be too good here with Jetson, third last year, and fast-ground loving Southfield Theatre also respected.