Big Buck's likely to return from injury, says Paul Nicholls
Record-breaking hurdler Big Buck's could have several runs left in his career despite being out for the season, says trainer Paul Nicholls.
The nine-year-old, who has won his last 18 races, was due to run in the Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot on Saturday before being ruled out with a leg injury.
"He's probably got four or five runs left in him," Nicholls told BBC Sport.
"He's had a lot of racing and a break might do him no harm. We might see him this time next year."
Big Buck's has not been beaten in more than four years since he reverted to hurdling from steeplechases.
He had been odds-on favourite to win a fifth World Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in March 2013.
But Nicholls discovered the hurdler, along with leading steeplechaser Al Ferof, had injuries on Monday evening.
"They are both totally unrelated, two different injuries, but when you have 120 horses in training, you get little niggles. They are minor injuries and both will be back next season," said the Somerset-based champion trainer.
Big Buck's has earned nearly £1.3m in prize money during his career and Nicholls admitted his lay-off was a blow in his bid to retain the trainers' championship, with Nicky Henderson expected to mount a strong challenge.
"We've had a great season so far and there's a lot to play for. I always thought Big Buck's was my trump card and his absence will make things harder," he said.
Big Buck's will be nearing the age of 11 when he is scheduled to return, with most National Hunt horses not remaining at the top level beyond 13.