Big Buck’s set a gloomy Cheltenham Festival alight by taking a fourth consecutive Ladbrokes World Hurdle for Paul Nicholls and Ruby Walsh.

The odds-on favourite equalled Sir Ken’s record of 16 straight wins in the process and was easily the most popular winner of the week so far.

The Irish mare Voler La Vedette gave the champion a real race for it up the hill, but Big Buck’s held her off and won by a length and three-quarters.

“We needed that – they have been totally out of form apart from the Champion Hurdle [which he won with Rock On Ruby]. For me winning today means more than anything, this was our number one target and the one I wanted this week because he is so special.”

The remarkable French-bred nine-year-old will now head to Aintree to attempt to conqueror Sir Ken’s record, set between 1951 and 1953.

Trainer Nicky Henderson extended his own winning streak, taking a sixth Festival race of the week with Riverside Theatre.

Part-owned by actor Jimmy Nesbitt, Riverside Theatre won a thrilling Ryanair Chase under Barry Geraghty. He beat last year’s winner Albertas Run by half a length, with Medermit a further half-length back in third.

“It’s just extraordinary,” said Nesbitt. “Nothing really prepared me for that. I’m rarely lost for words but I’m very emotional now. This is the greatest sport in the world.”

Willie Mullins and Davy Russell teamed up to take the first race, the Jewson Novices’ Chase, with Sir Des Champs. The much-hyped favourite Peddlers Cross was last of the eight finishers.

North Yorkshire’s Malcolm Jefferson won his first race at the Cheltenham Festival since Dato Star took the Champion Bumper in 1995 when Cape Tribulation took the Pertemps Final at 14-1.

The Jonjo O’Neill-trained Sunnyhillboy was a popular winner of the Fulke Walwyn/Kim Muir Chase under top Irish amateur Alan Berry.

And Tom Scudamore and Salut Flo justified favouritism in the Byrne Group Plate with a brave, front-running performance to win by six lengths.