Big Buck’s remains out on his own, so far ahead of his stayers’ hurdling opponents it is highly unlikely he will ever be beaten.
Paul Nicholls’ brilliant nine-year-old has earned his 174 rating in the Classifications for the fourth successive time.
National Hunt’s answer to Black Caviar last month took his winning streak to a record 17, since being returned to the smaller obstacles at the start of 2009. He has since won four World Hurdles at Cheltenham, and is 9lb clear of the nearest ’pursuer’ in his division.
That perhaps unenviable position belongs to Oscar Whisky, leaving British Horseracing Authority handicapper Martin Greenwood to reflect on a familiarity in his ratings – but one which breeds anything but contempt.
“I have a sense of deja-vu,” he said.
“Short of kidnapping, I cannot see how he can get beaten next year – unless some horse comes out of the skies. He is certainly the best hurdler I’ve ever rated.”
Big Buck’s rarely trounces his inferiors by too far, and Greenwood added: “He is probably even better than 174. Unfortunately, he is so short of credible challengers we may never know (how good he really is).
“It will take a truly great horse to beat him. I honestly don’t think it will ever happen.”
Some thought the same this time last year perhaps about Willie Mullins’ Hurricane Fly, over two miles.
But ‘The Fly’ endured an interrupted campaign and, despite winning the Champion Hurdle again on his own side of the Irish Sea, could finish only third to Rock On Ruby in defence of his Cheltenham crown.
Irish handicapper Noel O’Brien nonetheless rates the two champions equals – on 170, three fewer than Hurricane Fly last year – reasoning the latter did not run up to form at Prestbury Park at his most recent attempt.
Among those who might next year push both him and Rock On Ruby, Alan King’s juvenile Grumeti is the top-rated two-mile novice.
No four-year-old has taken that accolade since subsequent Champion Hurdle winner Katchit – from the same yard – five years ago. Unlike Katchit, Grumeti did not win at the Cheltenham Festival this year but did take his revenge on his conqueror Countrywide Flame when both went on to dominate the field at Aintree.
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