Ruby brings sparkle to Plumpton
Will Hayler looks forward to seeing Rock On Ruby join an elite - and not-so-elite band - as the Champion Hurdle hero tries steeplechasing.
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Anyone tempted to think that Champion Hurdle winners can't scale heights just as magnificent over fences should be made to watch endless replays of Dawn Run's Gold Cup victory of 1986.
However the simple fact remains that of the few horses to have embarked upon steeplechasing careers after winning hurdling's crow n, most have done so as an afterthought, or only once it has become unfortunately apparent that the speed and agility which enabled them to claim Cheltenham success has gone, never to return.
The most recent Champion Hurdle winner to go on and run over fences was Hors La Loi III, second to Istabraq in 2000 before winning in 2002.
But he refused to even start when out to defend his crown the following year and had two years off through injury before winning one of his five chases when into the veteran stage.
Collier Bay, the silky-smooth Champion Hurdle winner of 1996, was pulled up in the same race the following year when showing little apparent interest and his best days as a hurdler were also well behind him by the time his steeplechasing career began. Again, two wins from nine starts proved a rather meagre return compared to his achievements
Granville Again had two further attempts at repeating his Champion Hurdle success, finishing seventh in 1994 and pulled up in 1995. Sadly, his steeplechasing debut went even worse and his jumping was so bad that David Bridgwater pulled him up soon at barely halfway. He was never tried over fences again.
In the context of those exploits, Rock On Ruby embarks upon the move to steeplechasing at Plumpton today in almost flying form. Yes, he was disappointing when offering little resistance to The New One at Kempton in October, but that rival is the ante-post favourite for this year's Champion Hurdle and it's less than nine months since he gave Hurricane Fly a sterner fight than any other horse managed in the 2013 renewal of the same race.
Yet such is the refreshingly candid approach of trainer Harry Fry, a man who makes me feel both old and inarticulate every time I see him interviewed, that we don't have to pretend that 'this was always the plan' or that he's going steeplechasing as anything other than a suck-it-and-see mission, connections having come to terms with the idea that another attempt at the Champion Hurdle is probably a waste of time.
The decision to start his steeplechasing career at Plumpton should be applauded rather than derided, especially when other trainers seem to struggle to find all of the relevant pages in their racing programme book when trying to find opportunities for their novice chasers to avoid each others.
Not only does it make perfect sense to give Rock On Ruby a chance to find his steeplechasing feet at the lowest possible level, but it also entitles him to a tilt at the under-exploited and under-appreciated £60,000 bonus offered by satellite broadcasters SIS to the connections of any horse who wins one of five designated novice chases at Plumpton and at the Cheltenham Festival in the same season.
His appearance brings a bit of sparkle to an ordinary Monday's action and although, at rising nine, his best days may well ultimately prove to be behind him, he has the pedigree, profile and battling attitude to make a much better steeplechaser than most who have taken the plunge in similar circumstances. Good luck to him.