SAM Twiston-Davies insists he will treat the ride on Big Buck’s at Cheltenham today no differently to any other as the record-breaking staying hurdler makes his return after more than a year’s absence.
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 reintroduction with dual Long Walk winner Reve De Sivola, Willie Mullins’s Boston Bob and last season’s top novice At Fishers Cross among his five declared rivals.
With Ruby Walsh, the longstanding rider of Big Buck’s, no longer attached to the Nicholls yard, and Daryl Jacob having doubts about accepting such a highly-pressurised ride, Twiston-Davies has a chance to showcase his skills on one of the greats of racing which has won 18 consecutive races over hurdles since switching back to the smaller obstacles after parting company with Sam Thomas at the final fence of the 2008 Hennessy.
“If you just go and do what you normally do, then hopefully things will go right,” said the jockey last night.
“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.
“He’s been an amazing horse – he’s won 18 hurdles races on the trot,” said the trainer. “He’s had a nice, long preparation and has done lots and lots of hard work. He’s as fit as I can possibly get him without a run.
“If I had had my way I’d probably liked to have given him another racecourse gallop, but we haven’t been able to because of the ground.”
If it was not for the presence of Big Buck’s, today’s Festival Trials Day at Cheltenham would be very much inferior to the quality of racing on offer at Doncaster.
However, Nicholls will be looking to extend his significant lead over arch-rival Nicky Henderson when Hennessy runner-up Rocky Creek lines up in the Argento Chase – a key trial for the Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup.
Rocky Creek does hold a Gold Cup entry and Nicholls said of this progressive second season chaser: “He’s an enormous horse and did well last year.
“He had a little bit of colic a week after the Hennessy so we’ve given him lots of time to get over that. It was only a minor setback so the most obvious race to aim for was the Argento.
“If we’re going to run in the Gold Cup it gives him valuable experience on the course. This race will tell us whether we aim him for the Gold Cup or the Grand National. He could conceivably do both, but I want to get a run into him at Cheltenham – that will tell us a lot.”
From a Yorkshire perspective, interest revolves around the progress of Kim Bailey’s Harry Topper who came to prominence when winning the bet 365 Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby in early November.
Bailey pulled off the Argento and Gold Cup double with Master Oats in 1995 and has compared Harry Topper favourably with his horse of a lifetime.
Protected from too much serious competition as a novice, Harry Topper picked up the Charlie Hall on his comeback but flopped on better ground in the three-runner Future Stars Chase at Sandown.
Jockey Jason Maguire dropped off at Bailey’s stable after the meeting at Warwick on Thursday in order to try Harry Topper out in cheekpieces, which he will wear in today’s test.
“Jason was down in the south riding at Warwick and was able to find enough time after racing before the light faded to jump HT over 15 fences,” said the trainer.
“Jason, in the gloom of the setting sun, jumped HT with and without a set of sheepskin cheekpieces to see if they would help.
“We have decided to run HT in sheepskin cheek pieces for no other reason that it just might help Jason.
“There is no more genuine racehorse than HT but these pieces just could help and make him concentrate over his fences. This is HT’s Gold Cup.”