Rock On Ruby jumps the last at Doncaster in the Listed 32Red HurdlePICTURE: Edward Whitaker (racingpost.com/photos)
Ruby lands Listed hurdle after fatal fall for Darlan
Report: Doncaster, Monday
32Red Hurdle (Listed) 2m½f, 4yo+
ROCK ON RUBY got the better of Countrywide Flame after a fatal last-hurdle mistake from Darlan just as he was making his challenge.
The race turned completely at the final hurdle with Darlan travelling powerfully behind Rock On Ruby, who had been in front for most of the home straight.
Jockey Tony McCoy had been keen to keep Darlan tucked in behind Rock On Ruby and Countrywide Flame for as long as he could with a strong wind gusting at Doncaster and only moved his strong-travelling mount out just before the final flight.
But Darlan stepped at the hurdle and tumbled over it, firing both himself and McCoy into the turf. It proved to be a fatal error.
McCoy picked himself up after the fall although he declined to take the rest of his rides at Doncaster.
The fall left Rock On Ruby in front and he was able to keep on under the urgings of jockey Noel Fehily to comfortably hold the staying on Countrywide Flame.
Darlan, winner of the Grade 1 Christmas Hurdle at Kempton on his last outing, had been the general second favourite for the Stan James Champion Hurdle and had impressed with both his jumping and the way he travelled before his fall.
Nicky Henderson: distraughtPICTURE: Getty
Nicky Henderson, who trained Darlan for JP McManus and was visibly upset after the race, said: "It's some game, isn't it? Why is it always the good ones."
The shock of Darlan's sudden death was summed up by Henderson's daughter Camilla, who wrote on Twitter: "Such a sad day for everyone at Seven Barrows and the McManus family. Especially sad for [Darlan's groom] Andy Llewellyn. Truly gutting. Words cannot describe this sad loss."
While disappointed to win in the way they did, connections of Rock On Ruby were taken with overall performance of last season's Champion Hurdle winner.
Speaking before Darlan's death was confimed, Fehily said: "I'm delighted with him and he's done everything we wanted him to do. He'll definitely come on for that and he was taking a blow coming to the last.
"He was in front for long enough and he was idling a bit. It's always disappointing to see another horse fall like [Darlan]."
Trainer Harry Fry added: "He's done his job and he'll come for the run. He jumped well enough but there's improvement there. He a real tough, game horse."
Countrywide Flame's trainer John Quinn is looking forward to the stiffer finish at Cheltenham after his runner's staying-on effort in second.
"I was very pleased with him," he said. "He was five lengths behind at the last and was beaten three lengths having made the running. It will be a different story in a strongly-run Champion Hurdle with a hill to finish."
Rock On Ruby was cut to 6-1 (from 7) across the board by bookmakers for the Champion Hurdle as he attempts to become the first horse since Hardy Eustace in 2004 and 2005 to win the race in successive years.
Champion Hurdle favourite Hurricane Fly is now as short as 13-8 with BetVictor and no bigger than 7-4 elsewhere to regain his title - a feat last achieved by Comedy Of Errors in 1975.