Rock On Ruby: Champion Hurdler will start campaign off in Fighting FifthPICTURE: Edward Whitaker (racingpost.com/photos)
Fighting Fifth first for Ruby in festival defence
ROCK ON RUBY is primed to return to action in Newcastle's Stan James.com Fighting Fifth Hurdle on December 1 as trainer Harry Fry maps out a three-race campaign for the reigning Champion Hurdler.
The seven-year-old is 4-1 second favourite for the Grade 1 test over 2m with another crack at Kempton's Christmas Hurdle, in which he finished second to Binocular last year, pencilled in before a return to Cheltenham in March to defend his crown.
One of 14 entries for the Fighting Fifth in which Supreme Novices Hurdle winner Cinders And Ashes on Wednesday headed the market at 5-2, Rock on Ruby, trained last season by Fry under the banner of Paul Nicholls satellite yard, will be having his first run under the 25-year-old's name.
"Nothing has changed apart from a name on a bit of paper, and the horse knows nothing about that," said Fry, who trained his first winner in his own right at Exeter last month. "Rock On Ruby summered well and came back in big and well. He's filled out, is seven turning eight and is really entering his prime now.
"He's certainly showing us all the right signs at home and we couldn't be happier with him. Noel Fehily has been down and schooled him a couple of times and that has gone very well, so it's all systems go for December 1.
"We snuck into the Champion Hurdle as an underdog last year and now we're the ones to be shot at. We're the one everyone wants to beat and we have got to go out and prove our worth.
"We've pencilled in another tilt at the Christmas Hurdle, and then it's all about Cheltenham in March.
"We'll take one race at a time and Newcastle is good starting point. If it all goes to plan then we will be at Kempton on Boxing Day, but like last year I don't think we would probably see him between Boxing Day and Cheltenham, he would just go straight for the Champion Hurdle."
Grandouet, unraced since winning at Cheltenham last December, is 4-1 with the sponsors for the Fighting Fifth and is one of three entered by trainer Nicky Henderson along with Darlan and Cash And Go.
Triumph Hurdle winner Countrywide Flame, Supreme Novice third Trifolium and the Noel Meade trained Go Native are among the other eye-catching entries.