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Rock On Ruby (left)

Rock On Ruby (left) won the 2012 Champion Hurdle

  PICTURE: Edward Whitaker (  

Ruby out to rock betting for the Champion Hurdle

REIGNING Champion Hurdle winner Rock On Ruby takes on young pretenders Darlan and Countrywide Flame as trainer Harry Fry puts the finishing touches to a campaign he hopes can culminate with his stable star successfully defending his crown at the Cheltenham Festival.

With Clerk's Choice rounding out the opposition it is a small but select field that has assembled for the Listed £18,000 32Red Hurdle. Rock On Ruby, fifth choice in most lists for the Champion Hurdle at 8-1, has the chance to get one over second favourite Darlan, though the small field, and therefore the possibility of a tactical race, may well suit the Christmas Hurdle winner better.

As such, Nicky Henderson's runner is odds on for victory on Monday at a best-priced 4-5, with Rock On Ruby next at 2-1 and Countrywide Flame, at 7-1, the least fancied of the big three. Clerk's Choice is the 50-1 outsider.

Slowly run races don't play to Rock On Ruby's strengths so his young trainer, who masterminded the eight-year-old's Champion triumph when the horse was still officially in the care of Paul Nicholls, was far from disappointed with his star's third to Zarkandar and Grandouet in December's International Hurdle.

However, although the rookie trainer believes Noel Fehily's mount will this time both strip fitter and enjoy the quicker conditions, he is adamant that the Doncaster race is a means to a much greater end.

"He is well but this is a stepping stone for us and March 12 is the day we want him at 100 per cent," said Fry. "There is a little improvement to come but he has also come on since the International, so there's no reason to think he won't take a lot of beating.

"We have always wanted to get a run into him before March. The only option was looking like being the Kingwell but when this race came along it presented the perfect opportunity, and it will be his final run before Cheltenham."

Fry added: "It is going to be very tactical. We can't rely on anyone else to make it and we need to ride the race to suit our horse. What we don't want is a dawdle and a sprint. We need to make this a worthwhile exercise and so Noel will have a plan."

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