Harry Fry is hoping blinkers gamble pays off with Dorset-based Rock On Ruby
Harry Fry is confident the application of blinkers can help Rock On Ruby take his game to another level as he prepares to defend his crown in the Stan James Champion Hurdle today.
The fledgling trainer dropped something of a bombshell last weekend when he announced his pride and joy would wear headgear for the first time today, a tactic which paid off with Hardy Eustace when he won his first Champion Hurdle in 2004.
“We have been thinking about the blinkers for a while and after discussing it with Noel (Fehily) we decided if we were going to do it, first time in the Champion Hurdle is the right time,” said Fry.
“We’re hoping it will bring about an improved performance and after watching him in them at home, I can’t see any reason why it won’t.”
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Although officially trained by Paul Nicholls a year ago, Rock On Ruby was ably prepared by Fry, who at the time was assisting the champion handler.
Fry said: “The nerves probably won’t kick in until they’re down at the start.
“To have a horse like him running in a Champion Hurdle in my first season as a trainer is great and obviously very exciting.
“He has really come to himself the last week to 10 days and we really couldn’t be happier with him.”
Willie Mullins is hoping Hurricane Fly can silence the doubters and reclaim the title he won in 2011.
The 14-times Grade One winner arguably has something to prove, having been beaten into third when odds-on a year ago, but has enjoyed a far smoother preparation this season.
Mullins said: “He travelled well, he’s in great form and I’m happy with conditions.
“He has done everything right and bounced back for every run right compared to last year when we just got one run into him before we went over there.
“We’re very pleased and hopeful at this point.”
Ruby Walsh again gets the leg-up aboard Hurricane Fly and is in confident mood.
“Everybody has to have an opinion. My opinion is that I love Hurricane Fly,” he said. “I can’t understand why the bookmakers appear to be all out to get him.
“I’m delighted to be riding him – I’d hate to be laying him – and I think he’ll take all the beating.”
Nicholls still has a major Champion Hurdle contender in Zarkandar, who appears an improved animal since finishing fifth a year ago. Nicky Henderson has struck in the Champion Hurdle five times, and this year has a trio of runners in 2010 winner Binocular, Grandouet and Khyber Kim.
The two hopes for the north are Countrywide Flame and Cinders And Ashes, winners of last year’s Triumph and Supreme Novices’ Hurdles respectively. The field is completed by the Alan King-trained outsider, Balder Succes.
All eyes will be on Simonsig as the electric grey gets the chance to live up to his tall reputation in the Racing Post Arkle Challenge Trophy.
The Nicky Henderson-trained seven-year-old has dominated the ante-post market for the two-mile novice championship ever since he won his two races over fences at Ascot and Kempton by an aggregate margin of 84 lengths inside a week at Christmas time.
Twelve months ago his gifted stablemate Sprinter Sacre burst on the scene by blowing his Arkle rivals away.
Simonsig did his bit in 2012 by winning the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle and it is now his turn to strut his stuff over the bigger obstacles at jump racing’s premier event, where he will face just six rivals.
“Simonsig has only had two runs, only six days apart, and he’s got to jump around Cheltenham like a pro,” said Henderson. “He’ll have to (do it) in an Arkle and there’s no complacency in the camp, I can tell you.”
Overturn has been Simonsig's main market rival but the soft ground will not play to his strengths.
Majala will relish the ground as he is already proven on heavy, while Arvika Ligeonniere looked a top recruit for the Willie Mullins team when completing a hat-trick over fences with victory over Oscars Well in a Leopardstown Grade One on Boxing Day.