by RORY JIWANI, Head of PR at StanJames Saturday’s StanJames.com Fighting Fifth at Newcastle is sure to be the best renewal for many a year with three winners from this year’s Cheltenham Festival set to line up. StanJames Champion Hurdler Rock On Ruby will head to Gosforth Park with Supreme victor Cinders And Ashes and Triumph hero Countrywide Flame also scheduled to make their seasonal bows.
While Paul Nicholls was Rock On Ruby’s trainer when he won the Champion Hurdle, the seven-year-old was actually based at his satellite yard in Dorset run by his assistant Harry Fry. Having taken out a licence of his own, 25-year-old Fry is the youngest jumps trainer in the country and he has already had three winners from just 17 runners. On Saturday, he will be hoping Rock On Ruby can give him his first Grade 1 winner although the StanJames.com International Hurdle is a back-up option if the ground comes up very testing at Newcastle.
All the early money for the race was for Cinders And Ashes with trainer Donald McCain seeking a third consecutive win in the Fighting Fifth after the successes of Peddlers Cross (at Newbury due to the weather) and Overturn. The Supreme winner was 5/1 when we opened the book but he was quickly backed in to 9/4 and he’s now our 2/1 favourite. Jason Maguire will be on board and he is arguably the best hope from the second-season hurdlers.
Nicky Henderson’s sole representative is Darlan who was second to Cinders And Ashes at Cheltenham in March. He was punted ahead of the Racing Post Hurdle at Cheltenham but Henderson took him out the day before due to the rain-softened ground and switched his attentions to Newcastle. That move saw Grandouet rerouted to the StanJames.com International but, like Rock On Ruby, testing ground could see Darlan skip the race.
John Quinn’s Countrywide Flame almost emulated Detroit City by winning the Triumph and the Cesarewitch in the same year but he was just denied by 66/1 shot Aaim To Prosper at Newmarket last month. The four-year-old is a game competitor and he is no forlorn hope on Saturday.
Completing the field are Supreme third Trifolium for Charles Byrnes and the hardy Bothy who was last seen finishing fourth to Olofi in the Racing Post Hurdle. Brian Ellison’s charge has been supplemented for the Fighting Fifth and race fitness could see him get in among the big names in the field.
Ratings would suggest that last year’s novices have plenty to do to close the gap on Rock On Ruby although he was rated 145 at the start of last season and went on to win the big one at Cheltenham. The ill-fated Go Native was the last Supreme winner to follow up in the Fighting Fifth, and 151-rated Cinders And Ashes has clearly been aimed at this race and backed accordingly.
We’ve gone non-runner no bet on the race and we’ll be desperately hoping the weather holds so all six turn up. It’s rare to see four genuine Champion Hurdle contenders oppose before the Festival and it could be a cracking start to our Road To Cheltenham series. If they all show up, my hunch is that Rock On Ruby will show the young bucks who’s boss.
StanJames.com Fighting Fifth NRNB (EW ¼ 1,2): 2 Cinders And Ashes 5/2 Darlan, Rock On Ruby 8 Countrywide Flame 12 Trifolium 16 Bothy.
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StanJames Champion Hurdle antepost (EW ¼ 1,2,3): 11/2 Hurricane Fly 7 Zarkandar 8 Cinders And Ashes 9 Rock On Ruby, Darlan 10 Grandouet 14 Simonsig, Oscar Whisky 25 bar
*All prices quoted accurate at time of publication.