Big Buck's barely came off the bridle when securing his 18th consecutive victory in the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury on Saturday and he is already odds-on to win the World Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival for a remarkable fifth year on the bounce.
With challengers to his crown few and far between, some have suggested the Willie Mullins-trained Quevega should tackle the mighty stayer, but the champion trainer insisted on Sunday she would be bidding for a fifth successive Cheltenham win of her own in March in the David Nicholson Mares' Hurdle.
The only conceivable place the pair could meet is at the Punchestown Festival, but Stewart does not expect his pride and joy to making the end-of-season trip to Ireland.
"Like Willie has said, I think the only way they would meet is if Big Buck's changed sex," said Stewart. "Ruby [Walsh] obviously rides Big Buck's and Quevega and I just don't think it will happen.
"Quevega is as good a staying mare as I have seen, but I think it's highly unlikely we would go to Punchestown.Willie has said Zaidpour could have a crack at Big Buck's after his win in the Hatton's Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse, so we look forward to that.
"Big Buck's has won 18 races in a row now, certainly none of my other horses have come close to doing that, and we look forward to Ascot.
"I think it's unlikely he'll run in the Cleeve Hurdle in January, I don't think there's a lot to be gained by going there, so we'll get him right at his best to try to win a fifth Ladbrokes World Hurdle at the Festival."
Reflecting on Saturday's Newbury romp for Big Buck's, the owner said: "The only thing I would say is that he probably didn't beat a lot, but Ruby was very happy with him and said he never came out of second gear. It was a nice comeback for him, he obviously wasn't fully revved up, and that should hopefully leave him spot-on for Ascot on December 22."
Meanwhile, Henry De Bromhead is still keeping his options open as to what race to run Sizing Europe in over Christmas. The trainer is convinced his dual Queen Mother Champion Chase winner stays a lot further than two miles these days and is con-sidering races at various distances.
The 10-year-old holds entries in the King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day, the Dial-A-Bet Chase at Leopardstown on December 27 and the Lexus Chase there the following day. The King George and the Lexus are over three miles while the Dial-A-Bet is over two miles and one furlong.
Sizing Europe has been in winning form already this season, chalking up victories over two-and-a-half miles at Gowran Park and Clonmel.
"He's in super form and he's looking much more like a staying type of horse this year," De Bromhead said. "We have three options – the King George, the Lexus and the Dial-A-Bet Chase at Leopardstown. I think he has already proved he gets further. He was second to Kauto Star and he was all-out on very heavy ground last year at Down Royal. I don't know how anybody can make a case that he is not a three-mile horse."
* Frankie Dettori could today be given a six-month ban from riding by French racing authorities after testing positive for a prohibited substance at Longchamp on September 16.
The stewards of France Galop will meet in Paris today to pass judgment on the case after the medical commission passed its findings on to the stewards last month for their consideration.
Dettori has been serving a temporary suspension from riding in France following the positive test at Longchamp. The jockey had four rides at the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe trials meeting, after which the sample was returned.
Perhaps the most recognisable face in British racing, any decision to ban Dettori from racing in France could also be reciprocated by racing authorities worldwide.
That would rule Dettori out of events such as the he Rowland Meyrick Handicap Chase at Wetherby on Boxing Day, where Junior is now expected to race following his victory at Newcastle on Saturday. The nine-year-old, trained by David Pipe, overcame the top-weight handicap of 11st 12lb in testing conditions by making all the running in the Rehearsal Chase over three miles.
"I don't know if he was fully tuned up for that day, but he's jumped as well as we've seen him jump before," said Nick Bradley, bloodstock manager for owners Middleham Park Racing. "He looks back to his best. He might run at Wetherby on Boxing Day in the Rowland Meyrick. There is nothing before then and that is on the agenda at the moment.
"The [Grand] National is possibly a target again, but we'll take it race by race. How he runs in the Rowland Meyrick will dictate where we go next."
Trainer Noel Meade is also assessing Monksland as he considers stepping the five-year-old up to three miles on his next appearance following a fine run in the Hatton's Grace Hurdle. Having returned to Grade 1 level at Fairyhouse on Sunday, Monksland found only Zaidpour too strong under Paul Carberry and the Christmas Hurdle at Leopardstown could be next on his agenda.
"I thought he ran a good race and we might step him up to three miles now at Christmas. We haven't made a definite decision but that's an option for us," said Meade. "I thought he jumped well and finished off his race well."
Meade was more disappointed with the performance of Ned Buntline, who could only finish second in his hurdling debut at Fairyhouse. However, Dessie Hughes' Minsk secured a fourth-place finish in that meeting but was unable to quicken off a slow pace.
The Grade 2 Slaney Hurdle at Naas on January 6 is now a target. "Maybe he does want a bit further. We might not have made enough use of him," said Hughes.
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