Grand National meeting: Big Buck's wins but Denman loses
JOHN SMITH'S GRAND NATIONAL Aintree, Saturday 9 April, 1615 BST Coverage:
Live on BBC TV, HD, Radio 5 live, online Other races also across the BBC 7-9 April
Denman beaten by Nacarat in Totesport Bowl
Nacarat won Thursday's feature race at the Grand National meeting under a bold front-running ride from Paddy Brennan with favourite Denman well beaten.
The grey beat mare Carole's Legacy into second place in the Totesport Bowl, while Denman never looked content.
Earlier, Big Buck's put in another stunning performance to beat Grands Crus for his 12th consecutive victory.
Trainer Paul Nicholls told BBC2 afterwards: "He's probably the best horse we have ever trained."
The three-time Cheltenham World Hurdle champion went off as 4-6 favourite for the Liverpool Hurdle. Grands Crus tried to make Big Buck's work two flights out but Tom Scudamore was using up all the horse's last reserves, and Ruby Walsh cruised clear after the final hurdle.
Nicholls, whose French-bred eight-year-old has now won three Liverpool Hurdles to sit alongside his Cheltenham success, was notably impressed afterwards.
Trainer and jockey praise Nacarat
By declaring Big Buck's the best horse to have been through his yard, he was elevating the long-distance king above household names of steeplechasing, Kauto Star and Denman, as well as double Champion Chaser Master Minded.
Jockey Ruby Walsh added: "He was very good today, he wasn't overly extended. He travelled super, jumped super. He is a wonderful horse, a pleasure to be riding. That is the fourth time he has won at this festival, he is just an incredible horse."
Nicholls confirmed Big Buck's would continue to be campaogned over hurdles. His last attempt at steeple-chasing resulted in his last defeat, when Sam Thomas was unseated in the 2008 Hennessy Gold Cup.
The Somerset-based trainer added: "At 4am this morning he was flying around his stable because he knew the box was getting ready to bring him to Aintree."
"He'll go for the same four races next year [two staying hurdles at Newbury, then Cheltenham followed by Aintree]. He'll never run on the Flat and I doubt he'll ever run over fences again.
"He was awesome today, probably as good as ever - it was probably his best performance."
Bookmakers William Hill installed Big Buck's as a 5-1 chance to never lose another race.
When Nicholls and Walsh then collected the day's second race with another odds-on favourite, Zarkandar, hopes were high they could make it a treble with 5-4 shot Denman, the 2008 Gold Cup winner.
Ruby Walsh celebrates after yet another win for Big Buck's
Now aged 11, Denman was looking for his first win at Aintree and his first anwyhere since his November 2009 triumph in the 2009 Hennessy Gold Cup.
But this time Nicholls and Walsh were denied as the Tom George-trained grey was happy to make the running and jumped with his customary elan to keep the other five runners behind him for much of the race.
While Walsh and Denman struggled to lay down a challenge, the only horse who looked like she might reel in Nacarat was Carole's Legacy. But Brennan still had plenty of horse underneath him and won comfortably.
George said: "It's been a great 48 hours as we had a winner in France yesterday. A lot of hard work has gone into this horse and a lot of people deserve credit.
"We were never going to go to Cheltenham, but the big key today is the good ground. He's only had it twice previously in three years. Paddy gave him a great ride."
Nicholls said of Denman: "I could see when he came around the bend after the line first time round that he wasn't enjoying it. He gets on the wrong leg and then he's in trouble.
"He'll have a nice holiday now. Leopardstown might be an option and a nice race to run in might be the Lexus."
Carole's Legacy's trainer Nicky Henderson had indicated prior to the race that retirement beckoned for the mare, but connections might yet have a change of heart.
"It's up to Paul Murphy, the owner, to decide," he said. "She's got to go to stud at some point as she's part of a great family."
BGC Partners Liverpool Hurdle 1. Big Buck's (Ruby Walsh) 4-6 Fav 2. Grands Crus (Tom Scudamore) 3-1 3. Won In The Dark (Andrew Lynch) 66-1 11 ran
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