Big Buck's steals show from Jimmy's Theatre on day three
22:02 GMT, 15 March 2012
Actor Jimmy Nesbitt may have attracted most of the photographic attention when his horse Riverside Theatre won, but the three cheers and a lap of honour later went deservedly to Big Buck’s for a victory franking his claim as the greatest ever staying hurdler.
While the tweed-jacketed Nesbitt looked typecast as the thrilled Cheltenham owner – Riverside Theatre defying jumping mistakes to land the Grade One Ryanair Chase – Big Buck’s took centre stage after a record fourth consecutive success in the Ladbrokes World Hurdle. Big Buck’s, ridden masterfully by Ruby Walsh, was winning his 16th race in a row – a record-equalling unbeaten run which has earned his connections almost 1.2million in prize-money.
We've got 'em licked: Jockey Walsh is out of the saddle on Big Buck's
A resident of Millionaire’s Row, that line of boxes in which champion trainer Paul Nicholls houses stars like Kauto Star and Denman, Big Buck’s has somehow never managed to achieve a comparable level of public recognition and affection. He circles his box obsessively and worries if not fed before the other horses.
A poor neighbour no more.
Big Buck’s deserves to take his place in the pantheon of Cheltenham greats like Golden Miller, five times Gold Cup winner, Arkle and Istabraq, winners of four races each at the Festival, and Quevega, who captured her fourth OLBG Mares Hurdle earlier this week.
‘He is awesome, just class, a fantastic horse,’ said Nicholls, fighting back tears of emotion and splutters from a cough which he might have caught back at Ditcheat.
‘As I said, we’d had coughing but it hasn’t really affected the older horses,’ the trainer explained. ‘But we have been struggling for form and things haven’t gone to plan. The week has been a bit of a disaster apart from the Champion Hurdle. He saved us and we needed that. I was a bit worried.’
The crying game: It's all too much for Nesbitt
The sense of relief was tangible in the Nicholls camp, what with Nicky Henderson, his nearest (and closing) challenger in the trainer’s championship, taking his tally to six victories courtesy of Riverside Theatre. Nesbitt sounded positively Shakespearean in his enthusiasm.
‘The courage the horse showed, the ride that Barry (Geraghty) gave him and the training performance of Nicky – it is an incredible marriage,’ he said.
‘To hear people cheer the horse because they saw something in the horse and the rider. It was brilliant. Even to have a wee bit of that, it’s pasted into the album of my memory.
‘Forget the Oscar. That’s it, I’ve done it all now. Och, I’m just thrilled for everyone back home because Northern Ireland’s a very small place and a lot of people will have put on a lot of money today because of me. I hope they all have a decent pint tonight.’
The unbeaten Sir Des Champs’ next race is almost irrelevant. Willie Mullins, trainer of the hugely impressive Jewson Novices’ Chase winner on Thursday, and owner Michael O’Leary, owner of Ryanair, have their eyes firmly set on next year’s Gold Cup.
Sir Des Champs looked that good.