Monday 20 January 2020


Noel Fehily celebrates on Rock On Ruby
Noel Fehily celebrates on Rock On Ruby

The Paul Nicholls-trained Rock On Ruby caused a shock when winning the Champion Hurdle.

And there was no fluke about the result, with Noel Fehily on the 11/1 chance always tracking long-time leader Overturn before kicking for home turning into the straight.

Rock On Ruby held a clear lead between the final two flights but Overturn, Hurricane Fly and Binocular briefly threatened to challenge going to the last.

However, the eventual winner had plenty in the locker to hold off the rallying Overturn (20/1) by three and threequarter lengths, with the well-backed 4/6 favourite Hurricane Fly only third.

Ruby Walsh rode last year's winner with plenty of confidence but didn't look happy at the top of the hill and could never quite get on terms with the front pair.

Former winner Binocular tracked Hurricane Fly all the way under Tony McCoy but a mistake at the last put paid to any chance he may have had and finished fourth.

"I went down and schooled him earlier in the week and he felt amazing," said the winning jockey.

"I was told not to worry about sending him on but I was worried going to the last as he was pulling up a little bit, but he picked up again afterwards.

"The ground probably suited him a little bit today, he was very well on the day."

Nicholls, who saddled four of the 10 runners, said: "It's just testament to the whole team. It's a really tremendous effort and everyone is going to be thrilled.

"This horse is a seven-year-old, he's the right age, and it's brilliant. It was a great ride by Noel. He's a good man and has got a great winner. This is awesome.

"I didn't like the way Zarkandar looked in the paddock. He was a bit shelly and a bit light."

Assistant trainer Harry Fry, who effectively looks after the training of Rock On Ruby in Nicholls' satellite yard, said: "I'm speechless. This is what you dream of.

"It's great to be part of the team. With Richard (Barber) and Paul, you wouldn't ask for better. They've given me the chance and the opportunity.

"We wanted to win. We didn't come here to finish second best. We were here to win and he's come and done it.

"I didn't think he'd win that well. It's a brilliant day."

Overturn's trainer Donald McCain said: "I'm absolutely thrilled. He served it up to all of them at the top of the hill and I just panicked that turning in, for trying to do that and trying to go with the winner, it was going to cost him a place and he didn't deserve that.

"To see him stick his chin out again going down to the last and to the line is fantastic. His jumping was quicksilver.

"He wasn't himself at Kempton (Christmas Hurdle) and we knew why, because I got greedy.

"We knew we'd give him a break to come here fresh and he did a piece of work last week at Bangor that was sparkling.

"We were very hopeful he'd be in the four. To beat Hurricane Fly and get beat by Rock On Ruby I can't say I expected that, but I'm thrilled.

"He's shattered now, but I guarantee in the morning he'll come out like a tiger saying 'where can we go tomorrow?'. It's a fantastic problem as he's a horse who wants to please you.

"I'm pretty sure there'll be a Chester Cup down the line and going over fences is a possibility as I've schooled him and he's absolutely lightning over a fence."

Willie Mullins' trainer of dethroned champion Hurricane Fly, said: "He seems fine afterwards. Ruby thought they went quick enough and he's maybe disappointed us today.

"I thought coming up the far side he should have been able to move up quite easily one or two places to be in better order coming down the hill, and he didn't do that.

"He didn't fire when Ruby wanted to kick off the hill and get back into the race.

"He quickened up to get back in the race going to the last, but that was his race run.

"I thought he was going to be tailed off, then he got back into the race to give me hope, but clearly that was too much effort.

"He'd done everything right at home. We'd had a trouble-free run and the ground is no excuse. He was beaten by two better horses on the day.

"We knew this day was going to come. You can't keep winning. Maybe he just didn't fire and something will come to light next week.

"I'm disappointed but we live to fight another day and we'll go ahead to Punchestown I think. We still have a horse and we'll have other days, I hope."

Walsh added: "He was beaten too far out. He hit the first coming down the hill and I knew I wouldn't get any closer."

Tony McCoy said of Binocular: "He was flat out a long way out."

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