PAUL Nicholls believes Oscar Whisky could be the toughest opponent to date for Big Buck’s in today’s Ladbrokes World Hurdle on day three of the Cheltenham Festival.
Big Buck’s has dominated the staying division for the last three seasons, bagging three World Hurdles, and is on a 15-race unbeaten run. However, while the likes of Punchestowns, Time For Rupert and Grands Crus have fallen short in their challenges, Nicholls is aware of the threat posed by Nicky Henderson’s Oscar Whisky.
The Ditcheat handler still has faith in Big Buck’s, though, and the nine-year-old will write his name into the record books if he can land a fourth triumph in the Grade One feature. Nicholls said: “Big Buck’s keeps winning and he has beaten all of them except Oscar Whisky – I have a feeling he could be his toughest opponent to date. But he’s going to have to be very good to beat Big Buck’s and to stay very well. Oscar Whisky will be a very interesting opponent as he has been impressive in his races at Cheltenham. He is bred to stay three miles so it’s going to be a very good race.”
The seven-year-old finished third in last year’s Champion Hurdle before winning the Aintree Hurdle over half a mile further, prompting connections to step up to the staying races. And Henderson said: “He’s not a Champion Hurdle horse. I know he was third last year and he’s improved a bit as well, but we’ve got to try this race. He’s very good, in really good shape and it’s all a matter of if he stays. If he does, then we’re capable of giving Big Buck’s a race.”
Henderson also saddles Riverside Theatre, who finally gets a crack at Ryanair Chase glory. The eight-year-old was a leading contender for the race last season only to be ruled out by injury.
Riverside Theatre made a victorious return to action when landing the Ascot Chase, and Henderson believes the two-mile-five-furlong trip is his optimum.
He said: “We’ve been trying to get him here for two years. He had been off a long time [at Ascot] and there wouldn’t be a huge amount of improvement in him, but you’d think there wouldn’t need to be.”
Albertas Run has won the race for the last two years and will bid for a hat-trick for trainer Jonjo O’Neill. He held off the reopposing Kalahari King and Rubi Light in a thrilling finish in 2011 but has raced just once this term, although he won at Aintree back in October.
Jockey Tony McCoy said: “He’s eleven now and has been plenty hard to get right but Jonjo seems happy with him.”
1.30 Sir Des Champs
2.05 Catch Me
3.20 Big Buck’s
4.40 Brackloon High (nap)
1.45 Sparkling Hand
2.20 Pena Dorada
3.35 Mr Woods
4.15 Seymour Eric
4.55 Man Of Principles
5.25 Master Murphy
1.55 Definite Memories
2.30 Hever Road
4.25 Headly’s Bridge
5.05 Double Mead
5.45 Gin Twist
6.15 Red Somerset
7.45 Moral Issue
8.15 Lizzy’s Dream