Market Rasen: Darlan, a leading contender for the Champion Hurdle, suffered a fatal fall at Doncaster on what should have been his final outing before the Cheltenham Festival.
Lining up in the Listed 32Red Hurdle as an even-money favourite, Darlan looked a likely winner as he cruised to the last in the hands of Tony McCoy. However, the Nicky Henderson-trained runner met the hurdle all wrong and crashed to the ground.
Although McCoy escaped unscathed, he stood himself down for the rest of the day. Henderson, who was visibly upset by the loss of his up-and-coming star, said: “It’s some game, isn’t it? Why is it always the good ones?”
Owned by JP McManus, Darlan was among the top rank as a novice last term and had been expected to prove a major rival for ante-post favourite Hurricane Fly at Cheltenham next month. The six-year-old graduated to Grade One success when running away with the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton on Boxing Day.
He is not the first star McManus has lost in tragic circumstances, last year’s Gold Cup winner Synchronised losing his life after a fall when running loose in last year’s Grand National.
Darlan’s death understandably overshadowed victory for reigning champion hurdler Rock On Ruby.
Countrywide Flame had set the early pace, with Rock On Ruby sat on his heels before making his challenge at the top of the straight under Noel Fehily. He was slightly in front and under pressure coming to the last when Darlan suffered his fall, leaving the 13-8 shot to come home three lengths clear of Countrywide Flame. Clerks Choice was last of the three finishers.
Rock On Ruby’s trainer, Harry Fry, admitted the circumstances were far from ideal, but was satisfied with his charge’s performance. He said: “In terms of the race, we didn’t want a scenario like that and commiserations to all of Nicky’s team and AP (McCoy) and JP (McManus). As far as Ruby is concerned, we’ve come and he’s done the job.
“He’s had a good race and that will bring him on again for the day. He’s jumped well enough, not as sharp as he can be, but there’s improvement there.We can take him home and put the finishing touches on him.
“He’s a really tough horse. He joined Countrywide Flame turning into the straight and it’s a long way home, but he’ll keep galloping and keep finding all day for us. The whole season has been built around Cheltenham and hopefully we can go there full of confidence.” Fehily said: “It’s obviously disappointing to see the other horse fall like that, but we’ve been in front plenty long enough and he’s idling up the straight. He’s where we want him going to Cheltenham now. His best form is around Cheltenham and he goes there now with confidence up. If he’s good enough on the day, he’ll be bang there again.”
Meanwhile, Long Run will head straight for the Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup after trainer Henderson decided against a prep run at Newbury this weekend.
The Seven Barrows handler had pencilled in Saturday’s Betfair Denman Chase as a next port of call for his King George VI Chase winner following his Kempton success on Boxing Day. However, Henderson has decided to sidestep the Grade Two heat, which Long Run won last year, as he is not keen to run his staying star on testing ground. Long Run will now go to Cheltenham without another run as he looks to regain the title he won in 2011.
“Long Run is not running (at Newbury). We just decided with it being soft to heavy and everything, we are not desperate to go,” said Henderson. “We are under no pressure so we will go our own way.”
Long Run is a general 8-1 chance for the Cheltenham feature on 15 March.