Former Champion Hurdle hero Rock On Ruby made the perfect start to life over fences with victory as the long odds-on favourite in the Winter Gale Novices’ Chase at Plumpton.
Harry Fry’s stable star, who picked up the two-mile blue riband in 2012 and finished a fine second in defence of his crown to Hurricane Fly, faced just two rivals and his task was made even easier when one of those departed at the third fence.
Noel Fehily looked confident, just intent on getting Rock On Ruby from one side of his obstacles to the other without asking too many questions, and while a mistake four from home sent the birch flying he never looked like coming to grief.
The eight-year-old was safe over the last few fences and pulled away to win by four lengths from Lindsay’s Dream, who was rated some 69lb inferior over hurdles.
As the first Champion Hurd-ler to go chasing for some time, Fry admitted to feeling the pressure. “My immediate reaction is relief,” said Fry as the 1-10 chance returned to the winner’s enclosure. “We’ve got away with it on the ground today. We know he’s better on better ground. They’ve gone round together, jumped sensibly and it was a bit like a schooling session, really.
“We’ve made a mistake, but apart from that he’s jumped well, he was quick from A to B.
“There is a similar race here on 5 January, so we could come back for that before the Lightning at Doncaster (25 January). Hopefully we’ll get him through to March, then we have options like the Jewson and the Arkle.”
Fehily said: “I’m pretty happy, the ground was way too soft for him, but he popped around and did what he had to do.”
The general consensus of the bookmakers was to leave Rock On Ruby unchanged around the 16-1 mark for the Arkle in March.
Meanwhile, ante-post favourite Quick Jack was a notable absentee from the list of horses confirmed for the Ladbroke Hurdle at Ascot on Saturday. The four-year-old novice, a winner at Cheltenham last month, had been as low as 5-1 with one firm for the valuable two-mile handicap. The Boylesports.com Hurdle at Leopardstown on 25 January and the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury on 8 February are among his options, before he returns to Prestbury Park for the Festival in March.
The weights are now headed by Ptit Zig, a Grade One winner at Auteuil last month. He is one of three possibles for Paul Nicholls, with Sametegal and Irish Saint. Champion trainer Nicky Henderson is three-handed with Rolling Star, Chatterbox and Snake Eyes.