Put your money on Big Buck’s

Steve Simpson.
Steve Simpson.
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BIG BUCK’S will be many people’s banker for the Cheltenham Festival in March – but that has failed to stop a host of trainers willing to take him on.

BIG BUCK’S will be many people’s banker for the Cheltenham Festival in March – but that has failed to stop a host of trainers willing to take him on.

The gelding is one of 46 entries for the £260,000 Ladbrokes World Hurdle at Prestbury Park on March 17 – but it will be a tall order for each and every one of them.

The eight-year-old will bid to emulate the other outstanding staying hurdler of recent times, Inglis Drever, by taking the three-mile championship race for a third time.

Race sponsor Ladbrokes makes Paul Nicholls’ charge its 4/7 favourite as he bids to follow up the successes of 2009 and 2010.

If successful in 2011, Big Bucks would become the first horse to win the championship contest for three consecutive years.

Since being switched to the smaller obstacles by trainer Paul Nicholls, after unseating his rider in the 2008 Hennessy Gold Cup, Big Buck’s has yet to taste defeat in 10 outings and he recorded a fifth Grade One success in the rearranged Long Walk Hurdle at Newbury at the end of last month.

Some of his chief dangers may come from the stable of Nicky Henderson, as the Seven Barrows handler has entered Punchestowns (8/1 second favourite with Ladbrokes), runner-up in 2009, as well as impressive recent Cheltenham winner Oscar Whisky (10/1) and Zaynar (12/1), who won the Grade One JCB Triumph Hurdle at The Festival in 2009.

An Irish-trained winner would raise the roof on St Patrick’s Day, and a record 15 Irish entries are headed by a formidable quintet from Willie Mullins, that includes two previous winners of Cheltenham’s Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle – Fiveforthree (20/1) and Mikael D’Haguenet (16/1) – dual Grade Two David Nicholson Mares’ Hurdle heroine Quevega (10/1) and recent Grade Two scorer Mourad (12/1).

Six-time Grade One victor Solwhit (12/1) could also make the journey across the Irish Sea for trainer Charles Byrnes.

Other contenders include the David Pipe-trained Grand Crus (10/1), who sauntered to victory in a valuable fixed brush handicap at Haydock in November, and the Alan King-trained pair of Karabak (14/1), successful in the Unicoin Homes Relkeel Hurdle at Cheltenham in December, and Grade One Ladbrokes.com World Series Hurdle runner-up Bensalem (16/1).

Trainer Robin Dickin is hopeful that Restless Harry (33/1) can book his place for The Festival with a bold show in the Grade Two Cleeve Hurdle, contested on Trials Day at Cheltenham tomorrow week.

The lightly raced seven-year-old posted an emphatic eight-length victory over General Miller in the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle on Festival Trials Day last year, before falling at the last when still in contention in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle at The Festival.

Dickin said: “I am hopeful that he can run a big race – he is tremendously well in himself, and we always said that we would remain over hurdles this season because of his limited mileage.

“There are probably four or five horses that are quite evenly matched behind Big Buck’s, but you should never be scared of taking on one horse – who would have thought that Kauto Star would have got beaten on Saturday?

“It’s not his fault that he is competing in the top staying hurdles, but when you run in those kind of races, then you are bound to take on champions like Big Buck’s.”