The short-priced favourites for the big races at the Cheltenham Festival hadn’t delivered — until Big Buck’s swept home in the Ladbrokes World Hurdle under Ruby Walsh. The big, handsome dark bay barely had to be shaken up to cruise past his rivals and win Thursday’s centrepiece race by more than three lengths.

After Master Minded’s Champion Chase defeat yesterday, trainer Paul Nicholls will be relieved going into Friday’s Gold Cup showdown between Kauto Star and Denman that at least one of his stable champions did what was expected of them.

This was French-bred Big Buck’s second World Hurdle victory in two years, and he is certainly the supreme staying hurdler of his generation.

“He’s a special horse, isn’t he?” asked Ruby Walsh. “He absolutely bolted in.”

Walsh’s best friend, AP McCoy, had to have stitches in his chin after Jered fell in the first race, the Jewson Novices’ Chase (won by Richard Johnson aboard Philip Hobbs’ Copper Bleu). But the smile was back after the champion jockey gave Alberta’s Run a power-packed, bold ride to take the Grade One Ryanair Chase. Trained by Jonjo O’Neill, Alberta’s Run won the RSA Chase here two years ago. He came home 41/2 lengths in front of the favourite Poquelin, ridden by Ruby Walsh.

Alberta’s Run has top weight in next month’s John Smith’s Grand National, and Jonjo O’Neill indicated that the nine-year-old may well take his chance in the race. Barber’s Shop, owned by The Queen, could only finish seventh.

Nineteen-year-old Hadden Frost, who rode the winner of the first official pony race in Britain, moved his career up a level today with success in the Pertemps Final. He rode Buena Vista, who was running at his sixth consecutive Cheltenham Festival, for David Pipe.

Pipe, who has had a fairly quiet season up to this point, scored again with the grey Great Endeavour in the Byrne Group Plate. Conditional jockey Danny Cook brought home the 18-1 shot to secure himself a first Festival winner.

In the last race, the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Chase for amateur riders, the Donald McCain-trained Ballabriggs defied top weight to hold off David Pipe’s Faasel.

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