Paul Nicholls Big Buck's looks the big banker of the meeting for many punters at the forthcoming Cheltenham Festival in mid-March, but there is no such thing as a certainty in racing and connections of recent course winner Ashkazar are seriously considering given their horse a run against the superstar, writes Elliot Slater.
Ashkazar bounced right back to his best form when encountering three miles for the first time in his career in the Skybet.com Handicap Hurdle at Cheltenham on New Year's Day, appearing to relish the step up in trip when coming from some way off the pace to catch Junior half-way up the steep run-in and stay on to win by three-and-a-quarter lengths. Now that trained David Pipe has seen that the seven-year-old Sadler's Wells gelding does have more stamina than was first believed, a whole host of new options have opened up, including both the Pertemps Final and the World Hurdle.
David Johnson, Ashkazar's owner, has already suggested that the prospect of carrying top weight in the Pertemps against one or two potentially well handicapped rivals doesn’t particularly appeal, and whilst he believes that Big Bucks is going to be very hard to beat, he sees finishing placed in the prestigious Grade 1 as being a creditable achievement. However, punters would be well advised to keep their eyes on Paul Nicholls racing tips so they can get an idea of how the horse is shaping up.
If he does take his chance in the World Hurdle, for which he is currently available at odds of up to 25/1, it will be the fourth successive season that Ashkazar has run at the Cheltenham Festival – no mean feat in itself. He finished a fine second to Crack Away Jack in the 2008 Fred Winter Juvenile Hurdle, was a disappointment when tailed off in the 2009 Champion Hurdle behind surprise winner Punjabi, and last year finished 7th of 24 in the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockey's Hurdle, when sent off the 9/2 favourite.