Binocular focused on repeat
Nicky Henderson believes he has Binocular in the best possible shape to retain his Christmas Hurdle title.
Just five will go to post for the St Stephen's Day Kempton Grade One, with Binocular again arriving with a point to prove.
The 2010 Champion Hurdle winner, which missed Cheltenham back in March, defeated Overturn by nearly four lengths in the rearranged Christmas Hurdle last January, but Donald McCain's admirable performer turned those tables in no uncertain terms in the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle.
Just like stable star Long Run, which met with defeat on his seasonal reappearance, Henderson expects Binocular to strip much fitter with Newcastle under his belt, and confidence was boosted after a schooling session under champion jockey Tony McCoy.
"AP (McCoy) came in and schooled him and jumped four hurdles. I'm very, very pleased with him," said Henderson.
"You might find with him that when he ran at Newcastle, it was the same situation as when Long Run ran at Haydock. He came on tons for his run in the Fighting Fifth last year and he's in great shape.
"The track suits him and he won this race last year. Overturn is bound to go a good gallop, so there'll be no lack of pace on."
Overturn has been riding the crest of a wave since the corresponding race last season, winning the Chester Cup on the level, the Scottish Summer Champion Hurdle at Perth, the Ascot Hurdle and the Fighting Fifth.
His latest start saw him attempt to give Binocular's progressive stablemate Grandouet 4lb when second in the International Hurdle at Cheltenham.
McCain feels the ground is crucial for Overturn to be seen at his best, but he is happy with current conditions at Kempton.
"He seems grand. He's bounced out of Cheltenham and the ground has come in his favour so we'll give it a go," said McCain.
Rock On Ruby represents Paul Nicholls and will have plenty of supporters following the result of the Ladbroke last week. On his seasonal return he had Raya Star, which was receiving 13lb, over 10 lengths behind him in the Gerry Feilden at Newbury, while he was beaten just a short head by First Lieutenant at the Cheltenham Festival in March.
Nicholls also runs Sanctuaire, the mount of Daryl Jacob, but feels Rock On Ruby, which was not named after his jockey Ruby Walsh, has the strongest claims of his pair.
The Champion Hurdle is one of the few big prizes in National Hunt racing which eludes the champion trainer, and victory for Rock On Ruby would see him figure prominently in the ante-post lists.
"We've got the two runners and you would have to say Rock On Ruby goes there with a strong chance on his Newbury form, while Sanctuaire has an outside chance," said Nicholls.
Clerk's Choice, sixth in the Champion Hurdle, has his second start for Oliver Sherwood, while the two withdrawals were McCain's Drill Sergeant and Tom George's Olofi, which will now wait for Newbury on New Year's Eve.
Sunday Indo Sport