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Cheltenham Festival 2012: Noel Fehily hits a high on day one

It's all Rock 'n' roll as Noel hits a high on day one at Cheltenham

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UPDATED:

00:03 GMT, 14 March 2012

A Ruby won the Champion Hurdle, but not the one most punters were clamouring for on an emotional rollercoaster of a day marred by the deaths of three horses.

Rock On Ruby's 11-1 victory was just one highlight of the day as he left crowd favourite Ruby Walsh trailing in third on hot favourite Hurricane Fly.

There was also a breathtaking victory for Nicky Henderson's Sprinter Sacre in the Arkle Chase and an historic fourth consecutive win in the David Nicholson Mares Hurdle for Willie Mullins-trained Quevega.

Smiles ahead: Noel Fehily signals his joy after Rock on Ruby's triumph

Smiles ahead: Noel Fehily signals his
joy after Rock on Ruby's triumph

But that was countered with the the deaths of dual Festival winner Garde Champetre and Scotsirish in the cross-country chase and Educated Evans in the Pulteney Land Investment Chase, all after suffering leg fractures.

With nine horses having died at the meeting in the previous five years, the loss of three on the first day drew unwanted attention from stirring action centered on Rock On Ruby.

He is named after a boutique in the Dorset town of Sherbourne and owned by a bunch of friends known as The Festival Goers after the annual music-fest and mudbath that is Glastonbury.

Rock On Ruby simply galloped his nine rivals into the ground, beating Overturn by three-and-ahalf lengths to give champion trainer Paul Nicholls and jockey Noel Fehily their first wins in the race. Defending champion Hurricane Fly finished a further length-and-a-quarter back.

With the day's other two 'bankers bets' – Sprinter Sacre and Quevega – delivering, bookmakers were claiming the defeat of 4-6 Hurricane Fly had saved the betting industry an estimated 10million pay-out.

Race to the line: The riders turn the corner as they head for home

Race to the line: The riders turn the corner as they head for home

Race to the line: The riders turn the corner as they head for home

Ironically, the two Rubys could have
been a team. Walsh is stable jockey to Nicholls, but there had never
been any inclination for him to desert Hurricane Fly despite Rock On
Ruby's upwardly mobile profile.

That is in part because the seven-year-old, running for the first time since just being beaten by Binocular in Kempton's Christmas Hurdle, was actually prepared for the big race at the trainer's satellite stable in Dorset.

Nicholls handed credit for his big win to the two men in charge, Richard Barber, who helped get him started in training at his brother Paul's stable, and his 25-year-old assistant, Harry Fry.

It was also a rewarding success for Fehily, 37, who has missed the last two Festivals because of injury. While 4-7 favourite Quevega and Walsh did her usual trick of treating her fellow mares with contempt to set up the possibility of returning next year to do it all again for a fifth time, the most spectacular show came from Sprinter Sacre (8-11).

His victory under Barry Geraghty never looked in doubt and he freewheeled away from toiling rivals after jumping to the front three fences from home to beat Cue Card by seven lengths.

The big one: How the Champion Hurdle finished

On Tuesday, Geraghty had told Racemail readers of his admiration for the chaser, whose victory enabled trainer Nicky Henderson to move level with Fulke Walwyn's record 40 Festival winners.

The deaths of the three horses appeared to be tragic accidents and track officials were adamant they were unrelated to the drought-like conditions that have prompted heavy watering of the track in the run-up to the meeting.

Clerk of the course Simon Claisse said: 'We watered out any firm ground (on the cross-country track) and good to firm is a surface we have had there on a number of occasions.

'The cross country race has been run on much quicker ground including at our November meeting last year.'

Tim Morris, the British Horseracing Authority Director of Equine Science and Welfare, said: 'The injuries occurred at different parts of the course.

'As far as we are aware the cross country is not a problem race. The injuries were not sustained jumping. The ground on the course was within our criteria for jump racing.'

What's the score The Cheltenham tallies so far