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Big Buck's to stick to what he does best; HURDLERS.

TRIPLE World Hurdle winner Big Buck's begins the season as the undisputed star of Paul Nicholls' 145-strong squad at Ditcheat, and was yesterday hailed by his trainer as "one of the alltime greats", having stretched his unbeaten run in top staying hurdles to 12 over almost three seasons.

This time last year Nicholls had hinted we may see him back over fences this winter, although it was a different message he was putting out yesterday. "Considering his utter dominance of the staying hurdle division, it would be silly to think about chasing again. Big Buck's really is a phenomenal horse for us, one of the all-time greats, and we hope he'll contest the same four races as last winter - Newbury's Long Distance Hurdle on November 26, then the Long Walk, Ladbrokes World Hurdle and Liverpool Hurdle. He has plenty of time on his side to add more successes to his tally."

Of his latest victory at Aintree, over Grands Crus who now goes chasing, the trainer added: "I think we saw him at the top of his game that day. He was awesome." And he sent a chilling message to any would-be challengers to his crown from last season's novice crop: "Doubtless there'll be some new names in the frame, but they'll find themselves with a huge task to beat him."

Big Buck's is a top-priced 11-10 with Sportingbet to capture an unprecedented fourth World Hurdle in a row in March. William Hills go evens.

Nicholls has yet to win the Champion Hurdle - Celestial Halo came closest when beaten a neck by Punjabi in 2009 - but he has high hopes Zarkandar could develop into a leading contender this season.

Winner of the Triumph Hurdle on only his second start, the ex-French four-year-old didn't look as impressive at Aintree, but Nicholls warned: "He wasn't anywhere near his best that day and it was only his class that got him home."

Ever mindful of the difficult struggle juvenile hurdlers often encounter in their second season, he added: "Of course, Zarkandar will have to improve to mix it with the best, but he had a softpalate operation over the summer and we hope that will help him to improve.

"We'll train him like a Champion Hurdle horse until he tells us he isn't one, and although I'll enter him for the Greatwood Hurdle, I suspect his first run will be in what I call the Bula [International Hurdle], followed by the Christmas Hurdle."

Zarkandar is generally 12-1 third favourite for the Stan James Champion Hurdle, behind hot favourite Hurricane Fly.

The former top-class Celestial Halo hasn't found life easy since an unsuccessful spell over fences; he'll probably stick to hurdling and could win a Grade 2 conditions hurdle at up to 2m4f.

Neptune Novices' Hurdle runnerup Rock On Ruby has done nothing but improve in the last 12 months, providing immense fun for his syndicate of local owners headed by Paul Barber's son Chris.

Nicholls predicts the six-yearold can build on last season's efforts and hold his own in 2m4f conditions events.
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Sep 5, 2011
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