Ruby primed for mighty defence
Harry Fry reports Rock On Ruby to be in top form as the eight-year-old heads into the defence of his crown in the Stan James Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham on Tuesday.
Rock On Ruby kicked off the season with a fair third in the International Hurdle at Cheltenham's December meeting and showed progress to win his most recent race at Doncaster, albeit in somewhat trying circumstances following the fatal final-flight fall of the exciting Darlan.
Although officially trained by Paul Nicholls a year ago, he was ably prepared by his then assistant Fry, who has made a superb start to his own training career this season, and he said: "The nerves probably won't kick in until they're down at the start. At this stage, we're all just really looking forward to it."
He added: "To have a horse like him running in a Champion Hurdle in my first season as a trainer is great and very exciting.
"He has really come to himself the last week to 10 days and we really couldn't be happier with him.
"Ideally we would have liked better ground, but at the same time it could be worse. He came down the hill on heavy ground like the best horse in the race in the International and a lack of race-fitness caught him out at the end of the race. He's much fitter now."
Fry made a surprise announcement last weekend that Rock On Ruby would be fitted with blinkers for the first time at Cheltenham and he is hopeful it will help his stable star take his game to another level.
The trainer said: "We have been thinking about the blinkers for a while and after discussing it with Noel (Fehily) we decided first time in the Champion Hurdle is the right time. We're hoping it will bring about an improved performance and after watching him in them at home, I can't see any reason why it won't."
Given there is an obvious lack of pace in this year's Champion Hurdle, many believe Rock On Ruby could end up making the running. Fry is hoping this will not be the case, but is planning to leave tactics to his jockey.
He added: "We won't know how the race is going to unfold until it's already under way, but Noel will do whatever is best for our horse. He'll have a plan A, B and C and we'll just have to see what happens."