ROCK ON RUBY wasn't quite right when only third to Zarkandar and Grandouet in a Grade 2 at Cheltenham in December. Harry Fry has expressed himself satisfied with the champion's progress since and he can lay down a marker for Cheltenham with victory here. Darlan is the obvious danger as he was very impressive when landing the Grade 1 Christmas Hurdle at Kempton on Boxing Day with Fighting Fifth winner Countrywide Flame back in fourth. He could well have more to offer and John Quinn's gelding will find it tough to turn the tables. Clerk's Choice was sixth in the Champion Hurdle in 2011 but has never reproduced that form and, even in receipt of 8lb from the others, may struggle to make an impact today.
Countrywide Flame 6-4fav (11-7) Tracked leading pair, led narrowly after 3 out, headed next, soon ridden and one pace, no impression when lost 3rd flat, 4th of 7, 9l behind Darlan (11-7) at Kempton 2m hdl G1 (1) hvy in Dec.
Darlan 3-1 (11-7) Tracked leaders in 4th, headway after 3 out, led next, quickened clear approaching last, stayed on well, won at Kempton 2m hdl G1 (1) hvy in Dec beating Raya Star (11-7) by 4 1/2l, 7 ran.
Rock On Ruby (IRE) 5-2 (11-8) Close up in 3rd, disputed lead before 3rd, led briefly 2 out, every chance when not fluent last, soon ridden, 3rd and one pace flat, 3rd of 7, 8l behind Zarkandar (11-4) at Cheltenham 2m 1f hdl G2 (1) hvy in Dec.
Clerk's Choice (IRE) 10-1 (11-4) Held up towards rear, headway over 1f out, soon went 4th, one pace, 4th of 14, 11l behind Fair Trade (11-4) at Kempton 2m n h flat (4) std in Jan.