Rock On Ruby and First Mohican enhanced their Cheltenham Festival claims with victories on an informative afternoon at Doncaster.
Former champion hurdler Rock On Ruby faced just one rival in the Eventmasters Corporate Hospitality Novices’ Chase, the Paul Nicholls-trained Mr Mole. And, sent off the 2-7 favourite, Harry Fry’s stable star was never going to please everyone but his jumping certainly improved as the pace picked up in the final half mile.
The only semi-anxious moment came when he pecked on landing after the last and, as he pulled 10 lengths clear, Paddy Power were impressed enough to cut him to 6-1 from 9s for the Arkle next month The man on board, Noel Fehily, was thoroughly satisfied, and Fry’s decision not to risk him on ground softer than ideal was vindicated.
Rock On Ruby needs to defy the statistics, however, as the last nine-year-old to win the Arkle was Jimmy Fitzgerald’s Danish Flight in 1988. “I was very happy with him and Noel was happy,” said Fry. “Noel said he felt much better than when he ran in his prep run [for the Champion Hurdle] here last year. He always turns the corner in January and March brings out the best in him. There are five weeks to go now and we’ll just put the finishing touches to it. He’s gone and attacked every fence and he just pecked after the last, so it’s all systems go now.”
First Mohican was classy on the Flat for Sir Henry and Lady Cecil and was only beaten a length in a Group 3 at Deauville last summer, so it was no surprise he had the ability to make a winning debut over obstacles in the eventmasters.co.uk Novices’ Hurdle. The six-year-old’s Flat career was restricted through injury but he took to his new discipline well for Alan King. After making eyecatching progress and jumping well, the 7-2 chance led just before the final flight and, while he had to be kept up to his work by Robert Thornton to win by three-quarters of a length from Huff And Puff, it was a pleasing introduction.
Paddy Power left him unchanged at 20-1 for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle but the win was further evidence that King’s string have emerged from the virus fighting fit as he was also on the mark at Huntingdon.
King said: “I’d have been disappointed if he hadn’t won, it looked a good race on paper but he’s very smart. For a novice first time out that was as good a round of jumping as you could get.”
Vaniteux (8-11 favourite) was an impressive winner of the Eventmasters Ltd EBF “National Hunt” Novices’ Hurdle but this year’s Festival is not on his agenda. Nicky Henderson’s five-year-old made a mistake at the last at Kempton on Boxing Day but beat above-average rivals with ease under Barry Geraghty. “He’s very, very nice and that was a learning curve,” said Henderson.
Musselburgh specialist Everaard (16-1) put a string of disappointing displays behind him when staying on strongly to win the socialmediabuz.com Handicap Hurdle for Phil Kirby and Richie McGrath.
In Dubai, Godolphin’s Ihtimal proved her evident superiority in the Listed UAE 1000 Guineas.
Campaigned in Britain last season by Saeed bin Suroor, she had proved capable of winning both the Sweet Solera and May Hill Stakes before a thoroughly respectable third behind Chriselliam in the Fillies’ Mile. The favourite was settled in mid-division by a confident Silvestre de Sousa as Magroora made the running, and Ihtimal gathered momentum to score going away.
Bin Suroor said: “We have some nice fillies here and in England but she’s the best one. We’ll have to talk to Sheikh Mohammed, but I think she will have one more run here and then the English Guineas.”