JOHN SMITH'S GRAND NATIONAL
- Venue: Aintree
- Date: 12-14 April
- Grand National: 1615 BST, Saturday
- Live BBC TV and website (UK users): Thursday 1340-1630, Friday 1345-1630, Saturday 1300-1710 BST
- BBC Radio 5 live coverage:: Big-race commentaries. Preview Thursday 2000-2130 BST
Big Buck's raced to a record 17th straight career win as he comfortably landed the Liverpool Hurdle at Aintree for the fourth consecutive year.
The brilliant nine-year-old, trained by Paul Nicholls, broke the mark set by Sir Ken in the 1950s on the opening day of the Grand National meeting.
Jockey Ruby Walsh never looked troubled on the 2-9 favourite who won by nine lengths.
The 50-1 chance, Follow The Plan, landed a shock win in the Betfred Bowl.
Trained in Ireland by Oliver McKiernan and ridden by Tom Doyle, last season's Punchestown Gold Cup winner looked fresh throughout and once he came to the front and grabbed the lead from Nacarat after the second-last fence, he was a three-length winner from Burton Port with Hunt Ball in third.
The favourite Riverside Theatre was pulled up a long way from home.
Big Buck's winning streak stats
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"He was a bit sticky at the first but jumped great after that and I couldn't believe how well I was travelling," said Doyle. "He has been a very good horse to me and probably doesn't get the credit he deserves. I couldn't believe how easy he seemed to find it."
But Big Buck's was the star of the day as he sauntered to a nine-length win over Crack Away Jack (33-1) and returned to warm applause from the appreciative crowd.
Across The Bay led the field for the opening circuit but finished three-and-a-quarter lengths back in third, with 50-1 shot Tidal Bay was fourth.
The chance of a serious challenge to the market leader dramatically reduced when Restless Harry fell at the eighth flight and brought down Won In The Dark, before second favourite Smad Place fell at the fourth from home.
Walsh steered his mount to the front at the third last and extended his lead up the home straight.
Big Buck's came to Aintree having set another record when winning the World Hurdle at Cheltenham for the fourth time last month.
His winning run started at Cheltenham on New Year's Day in 2009 after he was switched from fences, having unseated his rider at the last in the 2008 Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury.
Walsh said afterwards: "The easy part is riding him. He's an incredible horse. He's skated in today. It wasn't as competitive a race as Cheltenham.
Away from the winners, the one to take out of today was Hunt Ball, the most improved horse in Britain. His jockey Nick Scholfield was beaming afterwards. He's finished third, travelled beautifully and is a big player for next year at a very high level
"He's bolted in and the last couple of years he's been better here than at Cheltenham.
"We're lucky we've never got to the bottom of him. He's never been extended over hurdles. I would say there's more there."
Nicholls added: "It was straightforward today. He jumped and travelled and did everything right. We're happy with him.
"Now he's got older it pays to give him a race between the Long Walk and Cheltenham, so the Cleeve [at Cheltenham in January] is ideal. We'll follow the same route."
On the day when
a statue of his late father Ginger was unveiled at the course,
Donald McCain trained
to victory in the Fox Hunters' Chase for amateur riders.
The 12-year-old, owned by Trevor Hemmings, has plenty of experience over the Aintree fences having been favourite for the 2008 Grand National and also ran in the 2009 and 2010 renewals and was given a superb ride by Richard Harding.
"He had a problem last year so we didn't know what to do so we went this route," explained McCain.
"We weren't happy with him at the beginning of the week and we weren't going to run him but my head-girl has done a fantastic job.
"It's great to see the old horse back, Aintree is special to us as a family and to repay people like Mr Hemmings is magic."
Earlier, Grumeti edged out Countrywide Flame to win the juvenile hurdle, but Gottany O's suffered a fatal injury when running on the flat between hurdles.