NOEL FEHILY warmed up for the ride on tomorrow's Betfair Hurdle favourite Irish Saint by steering his former Champion Hurdle-winning partner Rock On Ruby to a second straightforward victory over fences at Doncaster yesterday.
The Harry Fry-trained 2012 Festival hero – second to Hurricane Fly last year, having filled the same spot behind First Lieutenant in the 2011 Neptune – fenced fluently under the Cork-born rider before shaking off his sole rival Mr Mole in the straight.
After seeing off two similarly inferior rivals on his chasing bow at Plumpton, the classy nine-year-old remains largely untested ahead of his Arkle Trophy bid.
On good to soft ground that was deemed just dry enough, the 2/7 shot's jumping looked sound, though a lack of any real wow factor meant that Rock On Ruby remained largely unchanged at 8/1 for more Cheltenham glory.
Indeed, some firms were instead moved to trim Willie Mullins' Arkle market leader Champagne Fever, which is now as low as 3/1 from a high of 9/2 yesterday morning.
"He jumped very well and we've quickened up nicely," Fehily said of Rock On Ruby's performance.
"I thought he was very good on his feet today and he's a different horse to what he was before Christmas."
Fry acknowledged the lack of opposition wasn't ideal, but pointed to Rock On Ruby's big-race experience and a tendency to bloom in March as counterpoints.
"Noel said he feels a better horse than 12 months ago and that emphasises how he turns the corner from January onwards," he explained.
"March brings the best out in him. We have four or five weeks to put the finishing touches to him.
"He's gone and attacked every fence and he just pecked after the last, so it's all systems go now.
"He's a nine-year-old, so has experience at the very highest level even though he hasn't faced many horses this year."
While Fry oversaw Rock On Ruby's preparations en route to his famous Cotswolds triumph two years ago, Paul Nicholls' name is the one on the roll of honour.
Fehily has always maintained a superlative strike-rate for the former champion trainer and he will seek to make it four wins from just five rides for him this term when he gets the leg-up on the recent runaway Ascot victor Irish Saint at Newbury tomorrow.
A general 5/1 market leader following Nicholls' decision not to run his classy novice Irving because of the heavy ground, Irish Saint is one of 22 declared for the prestigious two-mile handicap.
Barry Geraghty, who partnered Nicky Henderson's short-priced Vaniteux to a smooth Doncaster novice hurdle win, rides the top-weight Rolling Star for his boss, with Willie Mullins' Smashing (12/1) the sole Irish runner.
Meanwhile, Mick Halford and Shane Foley got yesterday's Meydan fixture off to a flying start when Easter Rules built on last week's encouraging third to run out a brave neck winner.
The 7/2 shot was a second winner at this year's Dubai carnival for the trainer and jockey combination following Certerach's success a fortnight ago.