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By Martin Kelly, Press Association Sport. Last Updated: 18/03/10 8:42pm
Big Buck's cruises to the front in the World Hurdle.
Champion trainer Paul Nicholls and the Cheltenham Festival's winning-most jockey Ruby Walsh came to the rescue of broken punters as Big Buck's obliged as the 5-6 favourite in the Ladbrokes World Hurdle on Thursday.
The Festival hordes had suffered the indignity of seeing just two market leaders hit the target in the previous 16 races with even Nicholls' Master Minded blowing out in the Champion Chase.
And the crowd saved their biggest cheer of the week for the staying hurdle champion as he followed up his win of 12 months ago to maintain his unbeaten record over timber in Britain.
With arch rival and last year's runner-up, Punchestowns, now plying his trade over fences, Big Buck's faced a field lacking strength in depth.
With plenty in hand of his rivals, the odds-on shot was able to cruise into the race with his jockey sitting motionless.
Walsh took aim at Time For Rupert heading to the final flight and he flashed clear soon after with just a shake of the reins to become the first market leader of the week to oblige.
Time For Rupert was flattered by the three-and-a-quarter-length margin he was beaten in second, with Powerstation filling the third spot for the second year in succession.
Nicholls said: "He's a hugely talented horse. It's unbelievable. I worked the horses on Saturday morning - Poquelin, Master Minded, Kauto Star, the lot. They all worked well but he worked like a hairy goat.
"That sort of thing makes up you wonder how good they are and makes you nervous, but you know how good they are on the track.
"That's just him and I lost confidence a bit and I was sweating beforehand.
"We needed that one and it was probably his best-ever performance.
"That is a result for us and the punters. You need the short-priced ones to go in and everyone needs bankers.
"Yesterday was disappointing and if he had been beaten today I would have been worried.
"Aintree will be the plan now as that was just his third run of the season and the Aintree race is now a Grade One too."
Sponsors Ladbrokes make Big Buck's their 6-4 favourite for next year's renewal and Nicholls confirmed that a return to fences looks unlikely at this stage.
The trainer added: "He might go back over fences one day but there is no point at the moment while he is so good doing this.
"Master Minded is not as good as he was and we have a new champion chaser and Big Buck's is certainly a champion."
Walsh added: "He's a special horse. He's absolutely bolted in.
"He's got a terrific engine and that was a good round of jumping, he jumped better today than he ever has done.
"He is a good horse and it is certainly a joy to ride him.
"Time For Rupert is a fair horse and beat me in a handicap at Aintree last year but it is a long way from there to here."
Walsh is now two clear of Pat Taaffe's record of 25 Festival wins as a jockey and received a special memento of his achievement after the World Hurdle.
He added: "It is a great achievement and it is great to receive recognition."
Owner Andy Stewart added: "It's fantastic for us. He never came off the bridle and there were some very good horses behind us. He could be a star.
"My son Paul is here on his sticks after being in a wheelchair last year. Hopefully we can be back next year and he will not have his sticks."
Time For Rupert is now bound for a rematch with the winner, with trainer Paul Webber saying: "Absolutely no excuses - he's run a cracking race and it's a thrill to get that close to Big Buck's.
"He's always given us the impression that he would improve by 7lb or 8lb from his previous run which he has achieved but we are still 7lb short of Big Buck's.
"If he's OK, I would be keen to go to Liverpool with him because by the time Punchestown comes round, the going will be getting a bit quick."
Festival regular Powerstation acquitted himself well finishing 11 lengths adrift in third.
Trainer Eamon O'Connell commented: "He's our flag-bearing horse and he's unbelievable for us because I only have 13 in the stable.
"We struggled to get him here but he travelled very easily turning in but after that, we were just hoping for the line.
"He'll probably go to Punchestown now, although the owners are quite keen to look at the French Champion Hurdle."