Boylesport: Shock Champion Hurdle costs punters €3m

Punters were left shocked when Hurricane Fly finished third in the Champion Hurdle behind Rock On Ruby and Overturn.

Paul Nicholls’ name is now in the records for the Stan James Champion Hurdle but the trainer deflected all the credit for the preparation of Rock On Ruby as he completed his full set of major Cheltenham Festival titles.

The Willie Mullins trained favourite Hurricane Fly was one of the Festival bankers and his defeat has cost punters a whopping €3,000,000 according to Boylesports.

Hurricane Fly was part of most punters' accumulators, doubles and trebles, so the defeat has come as a serious blow, leaving punters out of pocket.

However, it wasn’t all doom and gloom for Irish punters, who cleaned up on the highly fancied Sprinter Sacre after he strolled home in the Racing Post Arkle.

Rather than at the main stable in Somerset, Rock On Ruby lives 25 miles across the county border in Seaborough, Dorset, and his schedule is overseen by Nicholls’ former assistant Harry Fry and his mentor, point-to-point maestro Richard Barber.

Largely discarded in the betting at 11-1, Rock On Ruby came to the rescue of bookmakers and caused a mountain of accumulators rolling onto 4-6 favourite Hurricane Fly to flutter away by the wayside.

Inspiration from Rock On Ruby’s name comes from a clothes shop rather than from Nicholls’ usual jockey Ruby Walsh, who had unsurprisingly chosen last year’s winner Hurricane Fly, who never quite travelled with his usual alacrity and could only battle on for third.

Noel Fehily, absent at the last two Festivals due to injury, tried to play to Rock On Ruby’s strengths as he sat just off the fierce pace set by Overturn until striking out for home at the second-last flight.

A solid stayer on the evidence of his second-place finish in last year’s Neptune, he never showed any likelihood of stopping to open a gap of three and three-quarter lengths from Overturn by the line.

Nicholls, completing the ’triple crown’ of Champion Hurdle, Gold Cup and Champion Chase, said: “This is a big team effort and the godfather of all this is Richard Barber.

“He’s the one who got me my job with (landlord) Paul Barber and he and Harry have done a fantastic job with the horse.

“I get there when I can, but I don’t need to as I can just let them get on with it. Harry was my assistant for five or six years and he was thinking of leaving and I said it would be good for him to go and work with Richard. He’ll have a big future.

“I was a bit worried Zarkandar looked light when I saw him, but Rock On Ruby looked outstanding.

“I’ve been worried about a few of my horses, with the coughing we had, but Seaborough has been flying. Everyone gets so much pleasure from this and I feel privileged to be part of it.”

Fehily said: “I missed the last two Festivals so this makes it really special.

“The Champion Hurdle is a race you want to win, but you never think it will happen.

“I hoped Ruby wasn’t stalking me, but I gave him a good kick and I knew it would take a good one to pass him.”

Fry, 25, added: “I thought he had a good chance and we came here to win.

“I’ve been with Richard since I started riding out at 13 and I wanted to be a jockey until I became too big.

“I was going to go to university but Richard asked me to spend my gap year with him. To work with the likes of Richard and Paul, I can’t thank them enough.”

Fry is as responsible as Nicholls for future plans for the seven-year-old, and he added: “We’ll enjoy today and see how he comes out of the race, but he could possibly go to the Aintree Hurdle.”

Neither Walsh nor Hurricane Fly’s trainer, Willie Mullins, could find any specific reason as to why a horse widely considered a superstar was beaten almost six lengths.

Mullins said: “Ruby thought they went quick enough and he’s maybe disappointed us today.

“I thought coming up the far side he should have been able to move up quite easily one or two places to be in better order coming down the hill, and he didn’t do that.

“I thought he was going to be tailed off, then he got back into the race to give me hope, but clearly that was too much effort.

“We knew this day was going to come. You can’t keep winning. Maybe he just didn’t fire and something will come to light next week.

“We’ll go ahead to Punchestown I think.”

Walsh added: “He was beaten too far out. He hit the first coming down the hill and I knew I wouldn’t get any closer.”

Donald McCain said of the remarkable Overturn: “He served it up to all of them at the top of the hill and I just panicked that turning in it was going to cost him a place.

“To see him stick his chin out again going down to the last and to the line is fantastic.

“I’m pretty sure there’ll be a Chester Cup down the line and going over fences is a possibility as he’s absolutely lightning over a fence.”

The 2010 hero Binocular stayed on for a respectable fourth.

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