The legendary Big Buck's has been ruled out of the Cheltenham Festival in March having picked up an injury at home in what is a massive blow for ante-post punters. The Paul Nicholls trained horse has written himself into the record books over the past few years winning the World Hurdle at the Festival four years on the bounce and he was odds on course for a fifth triumph in 2013. Plenty of ante post betting slips will have been thrown away in anger when the news of Big Buck's broke last night with the horse understood to have picked up a tendon injury. Champion Trainer, Paul Nicholls, was however quick to reassure fans of the horse that this is not a career threatening injury and he expects him to be back in training next summer.
Taking all of that into account, the next time we could see Big Buck's at the Cheltenham Festival is likely to be in 2014, when he will be 11 years old and questions are bound to be asked about whether he has won his last race at the meeting. There was a double blow for the Ditcheat yard with news also emerging that exciting chaser Al Ferof has picked up a similar injury and he too will miss the Festival. The Paddy Power Gold Cup winner had been set for the King George on Boxing Day before a potential Ryanair or Gold Cup tilt at the Festival in March but those plans are now firmly on hold.
Big Buck's was around a 4/5 odds chance for a fifth successive World Hurdle but the news of his injury has thrown one of the biggest races of the season wide open. Speculation has already started about horses being re-routed to the race having previously been on target to swerve Big Buck's. Chief among those horses is the excellent Quevega who has been installed as the new favourite for the Ladbrokes World Hurdle. The Willie Mullins horse is a four times winner of the Mares race at Cheltenham and connections could now send her to the World Hurdle having previously been reluctant to take on Big Buck's.
Other horses to have been slashed in the World Hurdle betting following the injury to Big Buck's include, Oscar Whisky and Peddlers Cross. The former came fifth in the race last season and is full of class while Peddlers Cross is a former Neptune winner and has been switched back to hurdles this season. IT has to be said that the injury news from Ditcheat has delt a blow to National Hunt racing but there is a chance we could get treated to a classic World Hurdle as a result. The Dermot Weld trained, Rite of Passage, winner of the Group One, Ascot Gold Cup, on the flat in June is anothe rlively candidate that bookmakers rate highly and still relativley lightly raced over hurdles, the eight year old could have a lot more to offer.
One thing's for sure, trainers across the UK and Ireland will be licking their lips as for the first time since 2008, the World Hurdle now looks wide open.