HEAVY ground at Newcastle ahead of tomorrow's meeting there has left the Grade One Fighting Fifth Hurdle reduced to just four runners and without the reigning Champion Hurdle victor Rock On Ruby.
The two-mile contest was set to mark a return to action and a first run under the care of fledgling trainer Harry Fry for last season's Cheltenham Festival victor, but Fry admitted he was "thinking of the bigger picture", following his decision not to run on the testing conditions.
His absence, along with that of Supreme Novices' Hurdle runner-up Darlan, means that Donald McCain's Cinders And Ashes, who won last season's Supreme Novices' Hurdle ahead of Darlan, is now the short-priced favourite.
McCain will be looking to win the race for a third consecutive season following Overturn last year and Peddlers Cross in 2010, and opposition to his hat-trick appears minimal.
The Charles Byrnes-trained Trifolium is the only Irish runner in the field as he looks to follow other Irish success in the race from Harchibald in 2004 and 2007, Go Native in 2009 and even Space Trucker for Jessica Harrington in 1996.
Trifolium was third in the aforementioned Surpeme Novices' Hurdle behind Cinders And Ashes and has a length and a half to find with him on that meeting.
His seasonal debut at Punchestown last month saw him go down on heavy ground to Miley Shah by 32 lengths.
Countywide Flame is the other that the bookies give some hope to.
The dual-purpose performer steps out of juvenile hurdling company for the first time after his famous victory in the Triumph Hurdle last season and then a brave run in the Aintree Grade One juvenile contest.
Since then, John Quinn's charge has won a two-mile handicap on the flat at Chester and ran a blinder to finish second in the Cesarewitch at Newmarket last month.