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Last Updated: 24/01/14 6:26pm
Big Buck's: Faces five in the Cleeve Hurdle
Sam Twiston-Davies insists he will treat the ride on Big Buck's no differently to any other as the record-breaking staying hurdler makes his return from more than a year's absence at Cheltenham on Saturday.
Trainer Paul Nicholls and owner Andy Stewart revealed earlier this month that Twiston-Davies, the rising star of the weighing room, would partner the 11-year-old in the galliardhomes.com Cleeve Hurdle before they bid for an unprecedented fifth Ladbrokes World Hurdle back at the course in March.
Big Buck's has been away for 420 days, missing the last Festival as he recovered from a tendon injury, and will have anything but a soft introduction with dual Long Walk winner Reve De Sivola, Willie Mullins' Boston Bob and last season's top novice At Fishers Cross among his five declared rivals.
"If you just go and do what you normally do, then hopefully things will go right," said Twiston-Davies. "Big Buck's is a very, very exciting horse and I am a very lucky guy. He just finds everything very easy.
"Everything for him is very, very easy. It is all in his stride - he is never out of breath or doing anything that is too strenuous. He just has that engine - he is a top horse."
Nicholls managed to fit a racecourse gallop into Big Buck's at Exeter in mid-December and has given the star plenty of exercise as he looks to take his unsurpassed jumping winning streak to 19 and believes he has taken every precaution.
"Rose Loxton, who rides him out every day, tells me he feels no different than before," said Nicholls. "And I'll be honest. I hope and think that he will win the Cleeve Hurdle. But don't get me wrong, he will improve for the run, win lose or draw."
Nicholls expanded upon Big Buck's gruelling regime in his Betfair column, and said: "Ever since Big Buck's came back in on September 1, this has been his target. And he has done loads of work.
"He has done one racecourse gallop - ideally I would like to have had another but the ground ruled that out - and some serious graft. Very few horses have done four successive canters up the hill here, but Big Buck's must have done a dozen of them now, every Wednesday and Saturday.
"In fact, the only other horse that I can recall doing four is Taranis, who won the Argento first time up after an absence of over two years. There is always an obvious concern when horses do make their comeback after such lengthy absences. But in my book, the opposition have more to worry about on Saturday, even if they do have race fitness on their side."
At Fishers Cross has questions to answer as his jumping has crumbled to pieces this season.
Billed as a serious Festival contender after victories in the Albert Bartlett and Sefton last season, he perplexed trainer Rebecca Curtis when screwing over the second-last flight of the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury under Barry Geraghty and losing all chance.
Tony McCoy resumed his partnership with the seven-year-old gelding against Reve De Sivola in the Long Walk at Ascot but his shoddy technique continued, and he was already beaten when a reckless leap at the last dislodged the champion.
"Obviously he's on a recovery mission, that's for sure. It hasn't gone to plan as yet," said McCoy.
"It's possible it has been physical. He just hasn't shown the sparkle he did throughout last season, so hopefully he can get back to where he was last year.
"I sat on him 10 days ago and was very happy with him. Hopefully he's through whatever issues he may have had or whatever reason he wasn't performing. Hopefully he's coming out of the other side of it now.
"It will be a tough ask for him to come back against the likes of Big Buck's and Boston Bob and a few of them like Reve De Sivola.
"Big Buck's is not what any horse wants to see, but he needs to perform on Saturday to get himself back on track.
"I've schooled him (At Fishers Cross) since he last ran and I was happy with him. Whether it was mentally or physically or a little bit of both. Horses can lose their confidence."
McCoy blames himself for the incident in the Long Walk, and told Racing UK: "When he made the mistake at Newbury it probably didn't help him.
"When I rode him at Ascot he never looked like he as going to win and I shouldn't have been asking him the questions I was asking him. Hopefully he'll put up a better performance and one to build on.
"I genuinely believe horses get confidence from winning. This horse gained in confidence last season and went from a handicapper winning at Newbury off 122 to 161.
"I still think he wouldn't have been far off winning at Newbury (in the Long Distance Hurdle) and Barry (Geraghty) thought the same.
"Obviously he made that mistake, then at Ascot he never gave me any kind of a feel. He didn't feel he was coping with anything at Ascot.
"The main thing is to get him back on track and hopefully he'll run pretty well on Saturday."
Infrequent winners Quartz De Thaix and Knockara Beau have a lot to find here, while Boston Bob re-entered the hurdling equation by winning well at Punchestown on New Year's Eve.
The 2012 Albert Bartlett runner-up had made a good start over fences but fell at both Cheltenham and Punchestown.
Mullins said: "I didn't want to run him in Gowran (Galmoy Hurdle) on Thursday as I didn't want him to take on Zaidpour. As things worked out, maybe I should have done that instead of travelling over to take on Big Buck's.
"We have 24lb to find with him (Big Buck's) and if he runs anywhere near his mark, we have a big task on our hands, as do the rest of opposition."
Jockey Barry Geraghty, who stands in for the unavailable Ruby Walsh, is a little more confident, and told his At The Races blog: "It's always good to get the star performers back because racing needs them but if he is going to be vulnerable then this is the race and I'm on the right type to cause a problem or two."
Nick Williams' Reve De Sivola was beaten nine lengths on Big Buck's final start in the 2012 Long Distance Hurdle and has subsequently become the title-holder of this race as well an Auteuil Grade One.
Owner Paul Duffy said: "Reve De Sivola is well and we decided to let him take his chance."