The Ladbrokes World Hurdle represents the pinnacle for staying hurdlers and although synonymous with many great multiple champions of the past, there is one name that trumps them all; Big Buck’s.
Starting with a maiden victory in 2009, Paul Nicholls’ hurdling sensation has since gone on to record an unrivalled run of four straight victories in the grandest race of day three at Cheltenham – two more than any other horse.
In a cruel twist of fate injury prevented the greatest staying hurdler of all time going for a fifth consecutive crown last year, but now Big Buck’s is back, there’s a changing of the guard in the offing.
The market leaves these two in a class of their own and there is plenty of reason to believe Annie Power will put the spoilers on a nostalgic triumph for one of Cheltenham Festival’s certified hall-of-famers.
On the question of form, there is only one winner. Six-year-old Annie Power is unbeaten in 10 career starts in jumps racing, winning her seven tests over obstacles to date, which includes three seasonal triumphs and one over course if not distance as recently as January.
Meanwhile, after missing the whole 2013 National Hunt campaign, the 11-year-old’s long awaited reappearance saw the Ditcheat stable spearhead fade in the final furlong to finish third – behind 7/1 World Hurdle shot At Fishers Cross.
Big Buck’s backers of the past could easily shake it off, as Nicholls did, but there are bound to be question marks over whether an aging horse could return unscathed from such a debilitating tendon injury.
But for undecided punters, it should be the man that sits atop of Annie Power which sways them towards her.
The severance of Nicholls’ ties with Cheltenham champion jockey Ruby Walsh – who piloted Big Buck’s to all four previous triumphs – is a big deal, even though Sam Twiston-Davies is a worthy replacement.
The Walsh/Mullins Cheltenham duopoly has been in full effect from the word go again, as Vautour made all to win the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, and the combo is an extra tick in the Annie Power box for the World Hurdle.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.
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