More Of That was ‘better horse’ in World Hurdle, admits Willie Mullins

• Annie Power only second in race for Big Buck's mantle
• Paul Nicholls retires 'legend' after fifth-placed finish

The next generation is always there at Cheltenham, waiting for its chance, but rarely has a baton been passed as publicly and decisively as it was after the World Hurdle here on Thursday. The connections of More Of That were still on the podium after receiving the trophy as Big Buck's, a four-times winner of the race, paraded around the paddock one last time to allow the fans to say goodbye. Then the 11-year-old, who had finished fifth, trotted off into retirement, and a new era began.

There was no great surprise that it opened with victory for an unbeaten six-year-old, but More Of That was not the one that many expected to see. Annie Power, with a perfect eight-from-eight career record, started favourite for the World Hurdle at 11-8, in what had been built up as a head-to-head with Big Buck's.

More Of That was not even Tony McCoy's pick from the two JP McManus-owned runners in the race, but he had not been beaten in his four previous starts over hurdles and as McCoy himself said last week, "winning is the best habit there is".

What More Of That needed to prove was his stamina for a three-mile trip, which is one reason why he started at 15-2. So too did Annie Power, who raced with zest through the opening mile but still had plenty left to give as she arrived to challenge More Of That and McCoy on At Fisher's Cross at the final flight.

The battle up the hill soon turned into a duel between More Of That and Annie Power, who was getting a 7lb mares' allowance from her rival. It was not quite enough to swing the balance in her favour, however, and More Of That stayed on strongly under Barry Geraghty to win by a length and a half.

It was the jockey's second win in a feature event this week, having won the Champion Hurdle on Tuesday in the same colours, and again on a horse that McCoy could have ridden.

"It was AP's decision [to ride At Fisher's Cross]," Jonjo O'Neill, the winner's trainer, said. "He believed in his horse, and I believed in mine. AP was adamant he wanted to stay on At Fisher's Cross and I'd have done the same because he was proven over the trip.

"Barry got him into a lovely rhythm and the horse jumped brilliantly today. I thought he would stay, but you never know until you try."

Big Buck's dominated this division for four seasons, running up a record-breaking 18-race winning streak in the process, until missing out on the chance of a fifth success due to injury last year. More Of That, though, looks like a horse with a big future over fences.

"If I can keep him safe and sound, then there are loads of options for him," O'Neill said. "He's a lovely, big horse and he could go chasing."

Annie Power had been a possible contender for the Champion Hurdle until a couple of weeks ago when the decision was taken to step her up in trip, and her connections will consider their options for the rest of the season and beyond now that her unbeaten record has gone.

"I think she ran to her mark and we were beaten by a better horse," Willie Mullins, Annie Power's trainer said. "We were in a good position at all stages and I don't have any excuses. She jumped very well and I can't say that she made a mistake, got penned in or anything like that.

"We have been at every trip this year and we will see how she comes out of that and see what race to go for. She might go to Liverpool [for the Aintree Hurdle in early April] but that would have been a hugely hard race and time-wise, Punchestown [in late April] might be a bit better."

The decision to retire Big Buck's seemed inevitable from the moment when the French-bred horse started to struggle for pace on the run down the hill towards the home turn. The bottomless stamina that had carried him home four times here was gone, but his status as one of the Festival greats has long since been secure.

"This horse has been a legend and we don't want him to get hurt or anything like that," Paul Nicholls, the trainer of Big Buck's, said, "so we are going to end on a good note.

"We are mightily proud of him, he has run a good race but has just not had the legs of old. All the days he won were great, while his fourth World Hurdle was amazing. Rose [Loxton, his groom] will probably end up keeping him and looking after him for Andy [Stewart, the horse's owner]."

Stewart said that his horse had been "one of, if not the greatest, modern-day staying hurdler". The 64-year-old high-profile owner added: "Now is the time for him to enjoy his retirement. The public reaction to him has been very flattering. I received 22 Christmas cards, while Big Buck's received 174."

For Sam Twiston-Davies, who had two high-profile rides at this year's meeting but has only an unlucky third on The New One in the Champion Hurdle to his credit so far, defeat on Big Buck's was by far the easiest to bear.

"It's a dream to have ridden him," Twiston-Davies said. "There were young legs against us. He is back safely and in one piece and that is the main thing, I am as happy as I have ever been finishing fifth." © 2014 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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