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Rock On Ruby (left)

Last year's Champion Hurdle winner Rock On Ruby (left) could line up

  PICTURE: Edward Whitaker (  

Champion Hurdle trial attracts big hitters

DONCASTER is gearing up to host an intriguing Champion Hurdle trial on Monday after the additional fixture's 2m½f Listed race attracted big names Rock On Ruby, Darlan, Grandouet and Countrywide Flame among 19 entries.

The line-up is partly dependent on an 8am inspection at Sandown on Friday that will decide the fate of Saturday's Listed Contenders Hurdle, one of four hurdle races that may be lost if the track has to switch to an all-chase card owing to forecast heavy overnight rain.

A final decision was delayed on Thursday after the course received conflicting reports about the amount of rainfall expected.

Nicky Henderson, who trains Darlan and Grandouet, a best-priced 9-2 and 7-1 respectively for the Champion Hurdle, has expressed his intention to reroute Christmas Hurdle winner Darlan to Doncaster if Sandown is obliged to stage an all-chase card.

The prospect of some decent ground following the prolonged wet spell has attracted 225 entries for the seven Doncaster races on Monday's card, which promises to stand out from the normal fare on the first day of the week.

Doncaster's clerk of the course Roderick Duncan said: "The ground is drying out nicely after all the snow and rain. It is currently soft, good to soft in places. The forecast is quite good and we should have some nice ground next week. We're really pleased to be staging what could well be a great race."

Jeremy Scott, who trains Melodic Rendezvous, has put his exciting novice in the race to give him options but is more likely to go for an Exeter Listed race or the Grade 1 Deloitte Novice Hurdle at Leopardstown in the next fortnight.

Explaining the delay in deciding whether Sandown can run hurdles races tomorrow, clerk of the course Andrew Cooper said: "The main reason is to take account of the forecast overnight rain. It is supposed to rain from midnight until dawn, but there are quite conflicting totals.

"The most general outlook is for 10-15mm, but some have it at the lower end of that scale. We will decide at 8am on Friday whether to have an all-chase card or stick with the original programme."

He added: "At the moment the ground on the chase course is a mixture of soft and heavy, while it is heavy [soft in places] on the hurdles track. Several places on the hurdles course are currently saturated, bordering on false ground. It's good we've got the flexibility to carry over a decision to tomorrow morning bearing in mind the overnight forecast."

Any annual member of a UK racecourse will be admitted free of charge to Doncaster on Monday on production of their relevant badge.

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