HURRICANE Fly was cut to 7/4 favourite for the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham after his main market rival, Darlan, suffered a fatal fall at Doncaster.
Despite the comfortable – if somewhat hollow – success of reigning champion Rock On Ruby in yesterday's 32Red Hurdle, Hurricane Fly now looks certain to go off favourite following Darlan's tragic demise.
To avoid the strong headwind, the highly regarded JP Manus-owned gelding and AP McCoy had slip-streamed Rock On Ruby all the way up the home straight, before the champion jockey had pulled out the six-year-old to challenge between the last two flights and appeared to be cruising.
However, Darlan clipped the top of the last flight and Nicky Henderson's charge took a fatal fall. McCoy, who hit the ground hard, was reported to be 'distraught' and stood himself down for the remainder of the day. He may not ride at Market Rasen today.
"In terms of the race, we didn't want a scenario like that and my commiserations go out to connections," said Rock On Ruby's trainer Harry Fry. "In terms of Rock On Ruby, he's done the job. He's had a good race and it will bring him on. He jumped well enough and while it was not quite as sharp as it can be, we've got five weeks to work on that.
"He's tough and genuine and keeps galloping. There's plenty of promise to take from that, his whole season's been geared around retaining his crown."
In the end, Rock On Ruby beat Countrywide Flame by three lengths. "It's obviously disappointing to see the other horse fall like that but we'd been in front long enough and he was idling up the straight," said winning jockey Noel Fehily. "He's where we want him to be, going to Cheltenham. His best form is around Cheltenham and he'll go there now with his confidence up."
A disconsolate Henderson said: "It's some game isn't it? Why is it always the good ones?"
It caused a shake-up in Champion Hurdle betting with another Henderson hope, Grandouet, promoted to 5/1 second favourite behind Hurricane Fly.
Henderson, whose day started with a double, had announced before racing that Long Run would not run on heavy ground in Saturday's Denman Chase at Newbury and his next appearance will be in the Betfair Gold Cup on March 15.
The afternoon had begun on a much promising note for the Seven Barrows handler as he teamed up with Barry Geraghty to win the opening two races.
Utopie Des Bordes, a Grade One-winning chaser in France, landed the mares' novices' hurdle, while Minella Forfitness stayed on strongly to claim a quite competitive maiden hurdle.
Henderson is keen to keep the pint-sized Utopie Des Bordes (4/11 favourite) against her own sex for the time being, although a crack at Quevega in the OLBG Mares' Hurdle at Cheltenham has been put on hold until next year.
Minella Forfitness (11/4 joint-favourite) got the better of two former classy Flat performers. Dual Cesarewitch winner Aaim To Prosper and November Handicap scorer Zuider Zee gave the winner something to aim at but he prevailed by two lengths. (© Daily Telegraph, London)