Ruby heads nine in Champion

Last year’s winner Rock On Ruby is among a field of nine for the Stan James Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham on Tuesday.

Hurricane Fly and Binocular, the previous two winners of the two-mile blue riband, bid to regain their crown.

Harry Fry’s Rock On Ruby will wear blinkers as he attempts to become the first horse since Hardy Eustace in 2004 and 2005 to retain his title. Paul Nicholls, who officially trained Rock On Ruby last year, is represented by Zarkandar, who is unbeaten in three starts this season and the mount of Daryl Jacob with Ruby Walsh electing to ride Hurricane Fly.

As well as Binocular, the 2010 winner, Nicky Henderson saddles Grandouet and Khyber Kim.

The 2011 hero Hurricane Fly, trained by Willie Mullins, is the only Irish representative.

Countrywide Flame and Cinders And Ashes, winners of the Triumph and Supreme Novices’ Hurdle respectively last year, take their chance while Balder Succes complete the line-up.

Cotton Mill was the sole withdrawal at the 48-hour final declaration stage. He is set to run on Friday in the Vincent O’Brien County Handicap Hurdle.

Hurricane Fly heads the market at 15-8 with William Hill.

Their spokesman Richard Thomas said: “Although only nine are set to go to post, this looks a fascinating and competitive renewal of the Champion Hurdle.

“Three previous winners are set to do battle, together with the 2012 winners of the William Hill Supreme and Triumph Hurdles. It could well be a tactical affair, and with that potential set-up, who knows who will come out on top?”

Coneygree meanwhile is lame and highly unlikely to take his chance in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle on Friday.

The six-year-old, trained by Mark Bradstock, returned stiff after what had been a pleasing workout on Saturday.

The horse will be checked over on Monday and should the issue be found not to be serious, Coneygree will be re-routed to run at Aintree’s Grand National meeting next month.

“He did the most fantastic, best-ever piece of work on Saturday. He came in a little bit stiff and last night he was lame behind,” said Bradstock’s wife and assistant, Sara.

“It will be investigated on Monday morning, but he’s got a massive future.

“We are not going to take any risks, so it is extremely unlikely he will run (at Cheltenham).

“He is still a big weak horse and that is when they get these training injuries.

“Hopefully it’s nothing serious and if it is just a muscle tweak he will probably go to that three-mile hurdle (Grade One John Smith’s Sefton Novices’ Hurdle) at Aintree.”

Coneygree has looked a bright prospect, winning his first three races over hurdles before finishing third behind Festival hopes At Fishers Cross and The New One at Cheltenham in January.

Trainer John Quinn is hoping the 5lb penalty Calculated Risk incurred for winning at Sandown on Saturday will ensure him a run at Cheltenham.

Although Calculated Risk still needs several horses to come out to guarantee him a place in Wednesday’s Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle, he is much closer to making the cut thanks to his success at the Esher track.

“After pulling out of his stable this morning 100% sound and having eaten up we have decided to aim him at Wednesday’s Fred Winter Hurdle at Cheltenham,” the North Yorkshire handler told “The 5lb penalty that he has picked up as a result of the win will hopefully be enough to get him into the race.

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