BIG BUCK'S' 12 consecutive victories over hurdles have included the last two renewals of this Grade 2 contest and Paul Nicholls' champion stayer is impossible to oppose again this year. He's generally seen off all pretenders to his crown over the last three years with something to spare and it's unlikely any of today's rivals will get him off the bridle. Kieran Burke's gallant mare Sparky May goes well fresh and could be the one for forecast-backers as Duc De Regniere has his first run for a new yard after nearly a year on the sidelines and it remains to be seen if Pettitfour can reproduce his run in a Cheltenham handicap here. Five Dream was second when put back over hurdles at Exeter last time but isn't in the same league as his illustrious stablemate.
Big Buck's (FR) 4-6fav (11-7) Held up mid-division, took keen hold, smooth headway to track leaders before 7th, led on bit before 3 out, shaken up final 150 yards to draw clear, very easily, won at Aintree 3m hdl G1 (1) gs in Apr beating Grands Crus (11-7) by 5l, 11 ran.
Sparky May 4-1fav (10-11) Held up in rear, took keen hold, steady headway from 8th, pressed winner after 10th, pushed along to challenge 3 out, no impression when hung left and lost 2nd flat, no extra, 3rd of 19, 6l behind Saint Are (11-4) at Aintree 3m nov hdl Grade 1 (1) gd in Apr.
Cerium (FR) 16-1 (11-12) Held up in last trio, driven after 12th, struggling 16th, tailed off when pulled up before 18th, in a race won by General Hardi (10-0) at Sedgefield 3m 4f hcp chs 0-130 (3) gf in Apr '10, 10 ran.
Duc De Regniere (FR) 9-1 (11-7) Close up in chasing group, apparently hit 7th, outpaced and struggling after 4 out, soon pulled up, in a race won by Big Buck's (11-7) at Newbury 3m hdl G1 (1) gs in Dec, 6 ran.
Five Dream (FR) 22-1 (10-7) Held up towards rear, headway on outside 9th, chased winner approaching 3 out, jumped right next, stayed on, no impression, 2nd of 10, 4 1/2l behind The Knoxs (10-8) at Exeter 2m 7f hcp hdl (2) sft.
Pettifour (IRE) 16-1 (11-0) Held up in touch, challenged after 4 out, led 2 out, strongly pressed last, driven flat, headed close home, 2nd of 19, hd behind Dorset Square (10-2) at Cheltenham 3m 1f Listed hcp hdl (1) gs.