TRAINER Paul Nicholls broke the news last night that Big Buck’s and Al Ferof will not run again this season. The record-breaking stayer Big Buck’s suffered a leg injury and has already been ruled out of a defence of his World Hurdle crown at the Cheltenham Festival in March.
Big Buck’s – arguably the biggest star in National Hunt racing now, following the retirement of Kauto Star and Deman – was due to run in Saturday’s Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot, seeking a 19th consecutive win, while Al Ferof was being prepared for an assault at the King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day. Breaking the news on Betfair last night, Nicholls said: “At evening stables tonight, we discovered a problem with both Big Buck’s and Al Ferof.
“I am not in a position to go into great detail at this point, but I can confirm that Big Buck’s will not be taking up his engagement at Ascot on Saturday and Al Ferof will not be running in the King George. And both are unlikely to run again this season.”
Big Buck’s’ owner Andy Stewart later confirmed that the remarkable nine-year-old has suffered a leg injury and would not defend his crown in the Ladbrokes World Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival next March.
He said: “He didn’t do it (sustain the injury) on the gallops. He was a little bit anxious in one of his legs at evening stables and after Clifford (Baker, Nicholls’ head lad) and the vet inspected him, we decided to draw stumps. He’ll not be running on Saturday and he won’t be trying to win a fifth World Hurdle in March. I’m a little bit gutted, but no-one has died and the horse is perfectly well.
“When the horses come back in at the end of July we shall reassess the situation.If he still has that zest and sparkle, we will continue with him, but if he hasn’t got that zest and sparkle, he will be retired.”
Al Ferof had been second favourite for the King George VI Chase, and William Hill last night revised their book, now going 5-2 Long Run, 9-2 Cue Card, 6-1 both Riverside Theatre and Sizing Europe, and 8-1 Sir Des Champs. William Hill PR Director Kate Miller said: “Few periods in the life of Paul Nicholls can have been as turbulent as those of the last seven days. After the furore of the Kauto Star situation, then the five winners on Saturday, as well as the loss of Cristal Bonus, came the news that both Big Buck’s and Al Ferof have suffered setbacks.”
David Pipe is also still aiming Grands Crus at the race. The grey was a red-hot favourite for the Paddy Power Gold Cup on his seasonal reappearance but disappointed in heavy ground and has since had a wind operation. He is 11-1 for Kempton. Following a piece of work yesterday morning, Pipe tweeted: “Grands Crus galloped this morning and I am pleased with his progress. Still hoping to make the King George on Boxing Day.”
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