Big Buck’s, trained by Paul Nicholls alongside other National Hunt greats Kauto Star and Denman, made Stayers’ Hurdle history ten years ago with jockey Ruby Walsh in the saddle.
Number 13 brings bad luck to some, but not if you are Paul Nicholls.
In 2009, his stable was enriched by the greatness of National Hunt on the eve of the Cheltenham Festival.
As the teeming press gathered at four depths to watch the horses the trainer would send to Prestbury Park, the stars of the Gold Cup rematch played different roles.
Kauto Star, the elegant and effortless galloper, wanted everyone to be interested in him.
Next, Denman stood facing the opposite direction, giving visitors a rear view his rivals had grown accustomed to seeing.
In the company of ringside-hunting titans was an even more eccentric character.
Notorious box walker Big Buck’s had her devoted husband, the late Rose Loxton, for company on open days.
At a time when his stable mates reigned supreme over the fences, Nicholls’ masterstroke was to bring him back to the hurdles.
The eccentric equine has become a game genius – and has won a record 18 races in a row.
His last and fourth consecutive Stayers’ Hurdle victory, ten years ago in 2012, put him at the top of the race’s all-time list.
This year, the Nicholls Festival channel is around that number 13 again, but nothing will limit its search for another star. Bravemansgame has already been a home just past Big Buck since his novice hunting days.
“I think Big Buck was just as good as Kauto, but never jumped the fences well,” Nicholls said.
“I remember when he came from France and we started to educate him here. He was awful.
“But he was able to overcome the obstacles and he became brilliant for us.”
Nicholls ditched his Gold Cup plan for the shiny-coated enigma after his late-running blunder at the end of the 2008 Hennessy.
The verdict of owner Andy Stewart? “Going bonkers” was the coach.
Within four months, Nicholls convinced the ‘mad’ thoroughbred to channel his energy into his maiden Cheltenham Festival triumph.
For Stewart, a big loss to racing when he died last September, he became the people’s horse – and Big Buck loved the limelight everywhere else but Ditcheat.
“Andy always thought he shared it with everyone,” Nicholls said.
“Winning the Stayers four times for all of us was amazing. Big Buck was a monster, a one-off.
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“When he came here he was supposed to have a goat with him, we left him behind and he started walking his box. He did it so badly that he wore the concrete down, so we put rubber on the floor to protect it. If his mate on either side came out and you left him in there, you’d hear him screaming in the next village. On the track, he slept until he got out and raced – then he was gone.
As quickly as his dominance began, Big Buck retired, stepping down upon the loss of his Stayers crown in 2014.
Every year since then a different horse has won the race, highlighting the greatness of Big Buck, who won £1.3million.
“It took us seven years to win at the Festival and then Big Buck’s came along,” said Andy Stewart’s son Paul.
“We were so lucky. His victories still put hairs on the back of your neck.
Now flourishing in retirement, the legend of Cheltenham can be found in all its glory in a South West county.
He may be 19, but the “hedgehog passage” sign near the stables where he is being cared for doesn’t indicate how he approaches life these days.
After a light grass cut, he is keen to fire his keeper Lucy Felton onto a manicured section of lawn.
“We call him ‘Bert’ – and he does what he wants,” she laughs fondly.
“He is loved and has a very happy retirement. May it last a long time.
“It’s very easy, my twins ride their ponies alongside us. It’s a great ride, but he still loves his people – and loves the attention when we bring him back to the racetrack.
A little more relaxed in his stable now, Big Buck still amazes the family with his fitness after a winter’s rest. “He pirates and we go hunting,” Lucy said.
“He can be on vacation for three or four months, you can bring him back to the walk and trot a bit. Then he turns at a canter and he doesn’t even blow out a candle afterwards. He’s a freak, he must have a huge heart and lungs.
Grooms Primrose Jeans and Eve Mitchell adore Big Buck’s – and have his coat as shiny as the day he walked into Ditcheat.
A year from now, those shampoos and brushes could prepare him for a very important date on the calendar.
“If we get to his 20th year and he’s fit, it would be nice to ride him at Cheltenham ahead of the Stayers’ Hurdle,” Lucy said.