03/11/2014 12:14PM

Cheltenham: Big Buck’s back in search of fifth World Hurdle win


Big Buck’s won the three-mile World Hurdle at Cheltenham Racecourse for four consecutive years from 2009-12 before being sidelined with a tendon injury in late 2012. More than a year after the injury was detected, the 11-year-old Big Buck’s is back racing, and back at Cheltenham in western England for Thursday’s $457,000 World Hurdle.

There are doubts that Big Buck’s can be as effective as he was during an 18-race winning streak that began in January 2009 and ended with a third in his comeback race, the three-mile Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham on Jan. 25.

Trained by Paul Nicholls, Big Buck’s is part of a maximum field of 12 in the World Hurdle.

As of Tuesday, Big Buck’s was the 5-2 second choice in early betting behind the undefeated 6-year-old mare Annie Power, at 15-8. Trained by Willie Mullins, Annie Power has won 10 races – three two-mile flat races in Ireland for steeplechase horses in August and September 2012 and seven hurdle races since November 2012.

The race is unlikely to have 12 starters. Quevaga, who won Tuesday’s Mares’ Hurdle for the sixth consecutive year for Mullins, is not expected to run twice this week.

Mullins and jockey Ruby Walsh had two wins on Tuesday’s first day of the four-day National Hunt Festival at Cheltenham but were beaten in the day’s biggest race – the $669,000 Champion Hurdle over two miles.

Jezki, a 9-1 shot, fought off a challenge from 3-1 My Tent Or Yours after the final hurdle to win the biggest race of his career by a neck. Hurricane Fly, who won the race in 2011 and 2013, was fourth of nine for Mullins and Walsh, fading after the final hurdle to lose by 2 3/4 lengths as the 11-4 favorite.

The New One finished third despite being hampered by Our Conor, who fell at the third of eight hurdles. Our Conor was euthanized because of a back injury.

Jezki, a 6-year-old Irish-bred gelding by Milan, is trained by Jessica Harrington and was ridden by Barry Geraghty. Jezki races for J.P. McManus, who also owns My Tent Or Yours. McManus owned Istabraq, the legendary hurdler who won the Champion Hurdle each year from 1998-2000. McManus won the 2010 Champion Hurdle with Binocular.