THE Paul Nicholls-trained Rock On Ruby caused a major upset on the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival by dethroning odds-on favourite Hurricane Fly and claim victory in the Champion Hurdle.
Ridden by Noel Fehily, who missed the last two Cheltenham Festivals through injury, the 11-1 shot passed long-time leader Overrun, who finished second, and held off a late challenge from last year’s winner, who came third.
“It’s just testament to the whole team. It’s a really tremendous effort and everyone is going to be thrilled,” said Nicholls. “This horse is a seven-year-old, he’s the right age, and it’s brilliant. It was a great ride by Noel. He’s a good man and has got a great winner. This is awesome.”
Rock On Ruby may have claimed the day’s showpiece race, but Sprinter Sacre produced the most eye-catching performance by romping home in the Arkle to help trainer Nicky Henderson equal Fulke Walwyn’s record of Cheltenham Festival winners.
Sent off as an 8-11 favourite, the much hyped six-year-old looked to have plenty left in the tank as he cruised to a seven-length success over Cue Card under Barry Geraghty.
Celebrating his 40th Cheltenham winner, Henderson said: “We always hoped he might be a bit special.
“He was coming here to show off and he’s done it. That’s the way he loves to do it. He is very flashy and very showy.
“That jumping was quite unreal. He was always travelling and he’s got up the hill. He’s got so much speed and scope, he’s just a dreadful show-off. That was really worth watching.”
Geraghty, who has partnered Cheltenham legends Moscow Flyer and Kicking King in the past, was equally fulsome in his praise of the sport’s most exciting chaser.
He said: “He’s unbelievable, he has so much pace and scope – I’m not sure I’ve had the privilege to ride anything like that. As long as he stays in one piece, that’s the main thing. The way he jumped the third-last he gives you some feel.”