Nicholls delighted with Buck's
Big Buck's took an important step ahead of his eagerly-anticipated return to action with a gallop before racing at Exeter.
The champion staying hurdler, trained by Paul Nicholls, was partnered by Daryl Jacob in the two-mile workout over a circuit of the track.
Looking very fit, with his skin in good condition, he travelled alongside Finale Hurdle-bound stablemate Solar Impulse, ridden by Nick Scholfield, before going ahead near the winning line.
The 10-year-old, who is unbeaten in his last 18 races, has not been seen since making a winning reappearance at Newbury in the Long Distance Hurdle in December last year. Owner Andy Stewart's star was found to be suffering from a leg injury later that month.
He has been back cantering since October and is being aimed at the Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham in January before bidding for a fifth Ladbrokes World Hurdle triumph at the Cheltenham Festival.
Nicholls said: "I've had him pretty fit as he has done lots of preparatory work, it was just a matter of getting him back on to a racecourse and that was his first bit on grass. With all of ours we tend to get them ready on the all-weather and it was pleasing that he didn't blow too much.
"It's been a long road back, but there was no way I was going to rush it.
"Our plan was to go for the Cleeve Hurdle ahead of the World Hurdle and then possibly take in Aintree in the spring. To be quite honest he looks as good as new, and when you consider the likes of Tidal Bay and Kauto Star he is still a young horse and there is no reason he won't be as good as he's ever been.
"With any horse who has had the problems he's had, you take it day by day. It was the same injury that Al Ferof sustained and he has come back at the top level.
"He's done loads of steady work on the walker and is a horse that wants to be ready to run. It's amazing, but he hardly ever blows afterwards.
"He was going to come back at the top level or not at all, and I am really delighted with him.
"That will have done him the world of good. I'm really thrilled, it looks like he's still got it."
Nicholls added: "There will be another gallop, either here or at Wincanton, before he runs in the Cleeve."
Jacob, who has yet to ride Big Buck's in a race, was also pleased.
He said: "We just went a nice, even gallop. It was exactly what he needed. Paul wanted him to have a nice day out and he's had that.
"He looked good in the parade ring beforehand. It will have done him the world of good and will have sharpened him up a bit.
"He was professional and that's what we wanted. It was a great day out for him."