Big Buck’s is in “seriously good order” according to trainer Paul Nicholls as he bids to land the Ladbrokes World Hurdle for a fifth time at Cheltenham on Thursday.
Speaking at a forum after racing at Sandown on Saturday, the former champion trainer disagreed with owner Andy Stewart, who felt the 11-year-old had “fluffed his lines” when beaten by Knockara Beau in the Cleeve Hurdle in January.
It was his first start after 420 injury-enforced days off and he went down by three-quarters of a length, ending his winning streak at 18.
Nicholls said: “I disagree with Andy. I don’t think he fluffed his lines at Cheltenham. He needed the run quite obviously on very bad ground and he had been off for a long time. I’ve trained him with one race in mind.
“If it had been a normal year, he’d have run at Newbury in November (Long Distance Hurdle) where we normally start the season off. I wanted him to have a hard race to see where we were with him – and if he was going to get to Cheltenham we needed a hard race.
“Sam Twiston-Davies did exactly as I wanted him to do – you ride a stayer like a stayer, you don’t ride a stayer like a sprinter – and he had the race won jumping the last, but just got tired.
“I walked the course that day just before we had all those thunder storms and the ground from the back of the last to the winning post was virtually unraceable, and he just got tired.
“He’s had seven weeks since then. He’s bloomed, he looks fantastic and is a lot lighter.
“He had a good gallop at Exeter the other day and he’s schooled well. I’m very happy with him and the one thing he’ll enjoy is the drying ground.
“All his best wins have been on good or good to soft, so the omens are good with the weather, he looks great and I’m very much looking forward to the challenge of the race.”
Nicholls is fully aware of the threat posed by unbeaten Irish mare Annie Power.
He said: “She beat Zarkandar on very testing ground, which he doesn’t like, at Cheltenham earlier on, but she’s a very good mare. The whole of Ireland thinks she’s going to win and perhaps she will do – but none of ours will go down without a big fight and Big Buck’s certainly won’t go down without a fight, he’s in seriously good order.”