Walsh and Nicholls to rule the World again

THE Ladbrokes World Hurdle has been won by some brilliant horses in the past decade. Both Baracouda and Inglis Drever thrilled the crowds with their withering late runs, but this afternoon BIG BUCK’S has the potential to permanently etch his name into the Cheltenham history books. Andy Stewart’s eight-year-old has won all 10 of his hurdle starts in this country and has never even looked close to getting beat in any of those races.

Paul Nicholls, as with all his horses, bought Big Buck’s to become a chaser and he was hugely disappointed when Sam Thomas unseated late on in the 2008 Hennessy Gold Cup. The champion trainer felt that the horse’s confidence might have taken a blow from that and he took what is now accepted to be a master stroke by running him over the smaller obstacles.

There aren’t enough superlatives to describe this horse and he will be many people’s banker bet of the meeting. Ruby Walsh has even said that he might be good enough to win a Champion Hurdle. So what can beat this machine? Well, it certainly isn’t going to be a walk in the park and the biggest threat according to the betting is David Pipe’s progressive Grands Crus.

An easy winner of a competitive handicap hurdle at the Paddy Power meeting in November, the grey has gone on to run away with a handicap at Haydock and then demolished a strong field in the Grade Two Cleeve Hurdle over today’s course and distance. That form was boosted by the run of Bensalem in Tuesday’s Spinal Research Chase and there’s no doubt that he is a very exciting horse.

However, I’m concerned that his best form has been with plenty of cut in the ground. He also tends to pull very hard in the early stages of his races and he’s never taken on anything with nearly as much ability as Big Buck’s, so I’ll be looking to lay him in runing on Betdaq.

We saw from last year’s Gold Cup that it’s dangerous to consider any race at the Festival as just a two-horse affair. Willie Mullins is already amongst the winners this week and he has two live contenders in this race that both have the potential to put it up toBig Buck’s and Grands Crus. Fiveforthree won the Neptune Investment Novices’ Hurdle in 2008 and has been plagued by injury since then.

However, he was a ready winner on his first start over three miles last month and his trainer is a master at getting horses to peak on the big stage. MOURAD is Mullins’ other runner and he is definitely worth backing each-way at 9/1 with Sportingbet, as well as at 4/1 in Paddy Power’s without Big Buck’s market. An excellent fourth in the 2009 Triumph Hurdle, he showed that day that he can handle this unique track and he has looked top quality in Ireland this year. Followers of this column will already have backed him ante-post, but the reason behind the confidence is that his trainer has always said he will improve massively for better ground.

I’m not sure if Mourad can beat Big Buck’s and the champion is a great bet at 11/10 with Victor Chandler. Mullins’ runner can definitely give him something to think about, though, and I can’t see him being out of the first three. I’d also favour him in a Sporting Index match bet with stablemate Fiveforthree.

Don’t forget that you can follow me live from the track during the Festival on Twitter @BillEsdaile.

the INSIDER

Some runners have been a bit disappointing this week, none more so than Time For Rupert in yesterday’s RSA Chase. Let’s hope the picks today all run to form. In the Jewson Novices’ Chase there are two standouts to my eye, the likely favourite WISHFULL THINKING (5% Win) and the Paul Nicholls-trained Robinson Collonges. We just missed out on a forecast yesterday and I see no reason to stop trying with a 2% CSF on these two likely types. The only concern I have is that neither herald from an Irish stable which is looking more and more necessary if you are to take the money from the bookies!

The 24 runners in the Pertemps Final at 2.05pm set a very difficult puzzle. I really wouldn’t be surprised to see old favourites Buena Vista and Don’t Push It run well but my money will be on the bottom weight CHARTREUX (5% e/w) for the David Pipe team. With just a few miles on the clock this son of Colonel Collins may be thrown in off a light weight. Get on early as a Pipe plunge may come.

The big race of the day is the Ladbrokes World Hurdle at 3.05pm. Most punters are going to be split between the Nicholls / Pipe camps. Big Buck’s is rated the best and has proved on this stage to be a great champion, however, he hasn’t possibly met anything in the GRAND CRUS (10% Win) league and I’m firmly of the belief he can get turned over. This could be a great day for Pipe. Other picks are POQUELIN (2% Win – 2.40pm), AIGLE D’OR (2% Win – 4.00pm) and SADDLERS STORM (2.5% e/w – 4.40pm).