Big Buck’s is currently trading as a long odds-on favourite – and justifiably so after securing his fourth successive Ladbrokes World Hurdle last time out at the Cheltenham festival.
The fact that Paul Nicholls’s stable star has followed up by winning this contest in his three previous attempts adds further substance to his claims at Aintree. Big Buck’s has now won all his last 16 starts over hurdles and he will have to perform well below form not to make it 17 in a row at Aintree.
The race for the places appears to be rather more competitive, with several horses in with some sort of a chance of filling the minor placings. Paul Nicholls has two more entries in Poungach and Tidal Bay, who both look to have their work cut out to make the frame.
The lightly-raced Poungach will gain valuable experience but his future lies over fences and he is easily passed over for this event. Tidal Bay is a law unto himself and, although he certainly has the ability to finish second in this, there will be more reliable propositions. He looked unsuited to the challenge when competing in the 2010 renewal of this contest and the percentage call has to be to mark him down for this race.
Won In The Dark finished a 12-length third in this race last season but has now failed to win in his last 17 starts and, therefore, others are preferred.
Smad Place will be viewed by most pundits and punters as the likeliest horse to chase the champion home after his fine third place finish in the Ladbrokes World Hurdle.
That was his first attempt at this sort of trip and there has to be a possibility that he will turn out to be a little better than all bar the favourite. Nevertheless, it is also more than possible that he was flattered by his finishing position at Cheltenham due to the fact that the two horses finishing immediately behind him, Oscar Whisky and Thousand Stars, both appeared to run out of stamina up the hill.
Furthermore, unlike those two rivals Smad Place was ridden with a place in mind at Cheltenham and, it could be argued, merely ran past two weakening horses that had already run their race in attempting to beat the champion. Despite one or two minor negatives Smad Place has a reasonably strong chance of finishing in the first three – although it has to be said he may well be shorter in the market than he should be due to the flattering nature of his most recent finishing position.
Restless Harry has finished within a few lengths of Big Buck’s on a couple of occasions and may well be good enough to do so again at Aintree.
He has a less sexy profile than the likes of Smad Place and, therefore, maybe the one that trades at a bigger price in the market than his true chances suggest. His trainer is in very good form, he is a really consistent performer and has as much chance as any of finishing in the placings behind the likely winner.
Big Buck’s will have to seriously underperform not to win the Liverpool Hurdle with something to spare. The two to follow him home could be Smad Place and Restless Harry; the latter’s chances of being placed have increased with the recent rainfall and in this eight-runner affair his current odds of about 25/1 make him hugely overpriced.