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Ruby rocks for Nicholls in Champion Hurdle


Rock on Ruby ridden by Noel Fehily clears the final hurdle to win the Stan James Champion Hurdle

Rock on Ruby ridden by Noel Fehily clears the final hurdle to win the Stan James Champion Hurdle

Rock on Ruby ridden by Noel Fehily clears the final hurdle to win the Stan James Champion Hurdle

Rock On Ruby ran out a most impressive winner of the Stan James Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham under Noel Fehily.

With Overturn adopting his customary front-running tactics, Fehily sat closest to him on Paul Nicholls-trained 11-1 shot Rock On Ruby.

The two opened up a gap on the rest of the field heading down the hill and all of a sudden, those in behind were struggling to bridge the gap.

Last year's winner and hot favourite Hurricane Fly came out of the pack to try and challenge, but he was never getting there and Rock On Ruby stayed on best up the hill to beat Overturn by three and three-quarter lengths.

Hurricane Fly was only third.

While odds-on favourite Hurricane Fly could be spotted travelling strongly under Ruby Walsh in the middle part of the race, the jockey had gone for his whip long before the turn for home.

The first two dominated the race from start to finish and of the pair, it was Fehily who had most up his sleeve and in the end his mount was a decisive winner to give Nicholls his first Champion Hurdle victor.

Binocular, winner of the race in 2010, tracked Hurricane Fly for most of the race having been held up at the back of the field.

He, too, made late ground to finish fourth, but as with the majority of the field, it was all too late.

Fehily said: "I went down and schooled him earlier in the week and he felt amazing.

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

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

"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."

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."