Reigning Champion Hurdler Rock On Ruby (13/8) won the 32Red Hurdle at Doncaster but the race was marred by a fatal fall for Darlan.
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The Listed two mile contest was specially arranged by the British Horseracing Authority with several Champion Hurdle trials having been lost to the weather.
The race was eagerly anticipated and was in the process of living up to its billing only for tragedy to strike at the last.
Darlan had jumped more slickly than Countrywide Flame and Rock On Ruby throughout but took a crashing fall at the final flight when asked to go and pick up the eventual winner.
Countrywide Flame had set out to make every yard but Noel Fehily aboard Rock On Ruby moved alongside with about six furlongs to run and the two leaders began to crank up the pace throughout.
Tony McCoy was motionless and getting plenty of cover behind that pair and eased Darlan past Countrywide Flame after the second last.
He appeared to be coming to win his race when taking a crashing fall at the last, leaving Rock On Ruby to come home three lengths clear.
Fehily said: "He's done everything we wanted him to do and he'll definitely come on for it. He had a good blow from the back of the last.
"It's obviously disappointing to see the other horse fall like that, but we've been in front plenty long enough and he's idling up the straight.
"He's where we want him going to Cheltenham now. His best form is around Cheltenham and he goes there now with confidence up. If he's good enough on the day, he'll be bang there again."
The winning trainer added: "In terms of the race, we didn't want a scenario like that and commiserations to all of Nicky's team and AP (McCoy) and JP (McManus).
"As far as Ruby is concerned, we've come and he's done the job. He's had a good race and that will bring him on again for the day.
"He's jumped well enough, not as sharp as he can be, but there's improvement there. We can take him home and put the finishing touches on him.
"He's a really tough horse. He joined Countrywide Flame turning into the straight and it's a long way home, but he'll keep galloping and keep finding all day for us.
"The whole season has been built around Cheltenham and hopefully we can go there full of confidence."
John Quinn, trainer of Countrywide Flame, believes his horse must have each-way claims at Cheltenham after attempting to make all of the running.
He said: "I'm very pleased with him. It's very hard to make the running when there's two top-class horses on your tail. At the last he was five lengths down yet at the line he'd reduced that to three.
"They'd gone a good gallop the whole way and then they were racing from a long way out into a strong headwind.
"We know he likes Cheltenham and he jumped so much better because the ground was decent. I think he's heading there with a sporting each-way chance."