BIG BUCK'S has dominated the staying hurdle division since 2009 and there are few signs that his powers are on the wane. He trounced today's rivals Dynaste, Mourad and Five Dream in the Cleeve Hurdle over C&D in January having sauntered to an equally impressive success in the Long Walk at Ascot earlier when Five Dream and Dynaste were again well beaten, as was Cross Kennon. Paul Nicholls' nine-year-old usually finds more if challenged and can complete a four-timer in this Grade 1 contest. It's a long time since there was an Irish winner of this race but they are strongly represented this season with Thousand Stars, fourth in last year's Champion Hurdle and subsequently second to Oscar Whisky at Aintree, having decent claims. He won a Grade 1 over 3m2f at Auteuil last June and has been racing over shorter trips since. Mikael D'Haguenet disappointed when beaten by Mourad at Naas, however, and Voler La Vedette's bubble was burst by Zaidpour at Gowran in January and the mare probably has a few pounds to find if she's to bounce back here. Oscar Whisky is a classy sort and has won three times over 2m5f here as well as finishing third in last year's Champion Hurdle. But it remains to be seen if he'll stay this far in a strongly-run race.
Big Buck's (FR) 1-4fav (11-8) Held up in 4th, headway after 3 out, shaken up after next, switched left to challenge approaching last, driven to lead flat, stayed on well, won at Cheltenham 3m hdl G2 (1) gs in Jan beating Dynaste (11-4) by 7l, 6 ran.
Carlito Brigante (IRE) 5-1 (11-4) Held up mid-division, tracked leaders in 3rd approaching 2nd, outpaced 4 out, ridden in 5th before 3 out, never a factor, 5th of 8, well behind Restless Harry (11-0) at Wetherby 3m 1f hdl G2 (1) gd in Oct.
Cross Kennon (IRE) 8-1 (11-12) Tracked leader, reminders after 6th, ridden and led 2 out, pressed and jumped slightly right last, headed last 150 yards, no extra, 2nd of 7, 5l behind Restless Harry (11-12) at Haydock 3m hdl G2 (1) hvy in Feb.
Dynaste (FR) 13-2 (11-4) Tracked leader to 5th, soon settled in 3rd, went 2nd after 3 out, led next, hard pressed last, ridden and headed flat, no extra, 2nd of 6, 7l behind Big Buck's (11-8) at Cheltenham 3m hdl G2 (1) gs in Jan.
Five Dream (FR) 25-1 (11-0) Held up in last pair, outpaced 2 out, never on terms, last of 6, 30l behind Big Buck's (11-8) at Cheltenham 3m hdl G2 (1) gs in Jan.
King Of The Night (GER) 5-1 (11-0) Held up in last pair, took closer order 4th, went 3rd 5th until 4 out, went right and hit next, lost poor 4th, went badly right and mistake 2 out, tailed off, 4th of 7, well behind Overturn (11-0) at Ascot 2m 3f hdl G2 (1) gd in Nov.
Mikael D'haguenet (FR) 4-11fav (11-6) Chased leaders, progress straight, sent in pursuit of winner from before 2 out but soon no impression, kept on same pace, 2nd of 8, 7l behind Mourad (11-8) at Navan 2m 5f hdl G2 (1) in Feb.
Mourad (IRE) 3-1 (11-8) Soon led, joined from 4 out, slight mistake next, asserted 2 out, stayed on well, comfortably, won at Navan 2m 5f hdl G2 (1) in Feb beating Mikael D'Haguenet (11-6) by 7l, 8 ran.
Oscar Whisky (IRE) Evens6fav (11-0) Tracked leaders, went 2nd over 4f out, led well over 1f out, shaken up and soon in command, readily, won at Kempton 2m n h flat (6) std in Feb beating Sir Harry Ormesher (11-0) by 3l, 7 ran.
Smad Place (FR) 9-2 (11-12) Took keen hold, held up towards rear, steady headway approaching 5th, chased leaders 4 out, went 2nd after 3 out, challenged and every chance 2 out, held when hit last, stayed on same pace flat, 2nd of 18, 3 1/2l behind Bourne (9-11) at Ascot 2m 3f hcp hdl (2) gs in Feb.
So Young (FR) 1-3fav (11-9) Made all, jumped slightly right throughout, pushed along and strongly pressed after 3 out, quickened clear from 2 out, stayed on well, comfortably, won at Navan 2m hdl in Jan beating Trifolium (11-4) by 8l, 4 ran.
Thousand Stars (FR) 11-2 (11-10) Led, mistake 3 out, strongly pressed after next and headed early straight, dropped to 3rd and no extra from before last, 3rd of 5, 10l behind Hurricane Fly (11-10) at Leopardstown 2m hdl G1 (1) sft in Jan.
Voler La Vedette (IRE) 4-6fav (11-3) Tracked leader at slow pace, keen hold, raced in 3rd from 4th, ridden in 2nd 2 out, kept on without matching winner run-in, 2nd of 5, 1l behind Zaidpour (11-10) at Gowran Park 3m hdl G2 sft in Jan.