With no obvious front-runner remaining among the entries for the Champion Hurdle, there is the danger that the early pace could be fairly pedestrian, aiding the faster sprinters in the field over those with greater speed endurance.
Rock On Ruby benefitted immensely from the testing gallop set by Overturn last year and he would want the race to pan out in a similar way again to give him the best chance of victory, which can be backed at 9/2.
His far superior record in races with 10 runners or more in comparison to those involving less than 10 is further indication that a strong pace is pivotal to his chances.
One way to prevent a slow early gallop would be for Rock On Ruby to set his own pace and the decision to fit him with blinkers could indicate that this is the race plan connections are preparing.
The blinkers would potentially help him concentrate in this regard and trainer Harry Fry has indicated that the defending champion has impressed at home in the headgear.
The big hope will be that the blinkers do not have the opposite effect and cause Rock On Ruby to pull too hard in the opening stages, which will be to the detriment of his stamina when it comes to climbing the Cheltenham hill at the finale.
Rock on Ruby has not finished outside of the first three in his last 13 starts, which does intimate that at his current price of 9/2, he is an each-way bet to nothing.
Meanwhile, 12 horses have previously defending their Champion Hurdle title and Fry has the best winning percentage of all trainers in the current National Hunt season, with 17 triumphs from just 55 races.
Furthermore, with Rock On Ruby being Fry’s sole Festival competitor, he can dedicate all of his time to ensuring that the eight-year-old is as perfect as possible for Cheltenham.
All odds and markets accurate as of publication’s time and date