Chieftain and Boyfromnowhere set to shine between Rock and a muddy place

Champion hurdler can make winning return on his first official start for rookie trainer Fry

Another week still, before its shortest Saturday, but surely the winter cannot be reserving anything more dispiriting than it served up at Cheltenham yesterday.

You might beg to differ, admittedly, if you happen to be one of those unfortunates keeping the show on the road at Wolverhampton, where the last of 14 races is scheduled for 9.20 pm. But a few wild, wet hours in the half-light yesterday seem likely to have bequeathed horrible conditions for those horses convening today in the name of quality, rather than quantity. If anything, the forecast for a brighter day suggests that the going at Cheltenham may become still more congealed.

Punters need to tread with corresponding care. Frankly, one or two of yesterday’s finishes presented a pretty uncomfortable spectacle. Horses that coped best with the attrition paid for it by having nowhere to hide as they finally tired. Conditions so inimical to brilliance will certainly limit the  pertinence of today’s meeting to the Festival, assuming spring ground has returned by March; and make it hard enough to figure out what might  happen even today.

Not exactly a red carpet, then, for the return of the champion hurdler. Rock On Ruby reappears in the Stan James International Hurdle, for the first time officially under the care of Harry Fry – openly credited by Paul Nicholls with the horse’s day-to-day preparation for the Festival last  season, at the champion trainer’s satellite yard.

Rock On Ruby seemed flat when turned out again at Aintree, compounding the evidence that he is best fresh. In fact, he has never been beaten after a break, and had been rested since Christmas before winning the Champion Hurdle. He should see things out thoroughly today, with top form both in the mud and over longer trips, and it could be that the odds damn Rock On Ruby (3.05) with rather too faint praise.

Many are favouring Nicholls to get the better of his former protégé, as Zarkandar arrives with the advantage of race fitness, but this horse’s history of coming on and off the bridle is rather unnerving in what could turn into a stop-start race in the demanding conditions. Grandouet, the only other runner with credible form claims, looked to be on his way to the top when impressing here last year but was  subsequently sidelined by injury. He has made his name on better ground, and surely needs only to show signs of life in this terrain.

But he is not the only star hurdler at Seven Barrows back in the hope of repeating a success here last year, and even in this ground it is hard to conceive how Oscar Whisky (3.40) can fail to land very short odds in the Unicoin Homes Relkeel Hurdle.

Things should be much more competitive in the big handicap chase on the card, the Paul Stewart  IronSpine Charity Gold Cup. Like Rock On Ruby, however, Walkon has a history of running best fresh and must therefore represent a questionable favourite – having produced such a generous effort round here, first time out, when chasing home Al Ferof last month.

Nicholls, who saddled Al Ferof that day, again has a couple of interesting runners. But it is hard to believe that Unioniste, only four years old and 6lb out of the handicap, can beat physically mature rivals in such gruelling ground; and while Cristal Bonus  remains unexposed, he has diminishing room for manoeuvre at the weights.

At 20-1, it might be worth instead taking a chance with Golden Chieftain (2.30). He has often promised to win a good race some day, when everything falls into place, and should now be approaching his prime. Impressive at Worcester in October, he did not get home over a longer trip last time and a first-time tongue-tie suggests that stamina may not have been the only problem.

Romantics will be hoping for the best for Coneygree, flying the flag for a smaller yard, in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle. He looked ready for the step up to three miles when seeing off a strong field at the last meeting here, but that was his second generous effort in barely a fortnight and he risks running low on fuel in this gloop. Boyfromnowhere (1.55) could be the value after relishing this trip last time.

Another trainer eager to show what he can do with the right material is Jeremy Scott, who saddled Melodic Rendezvous to gain his first win over timber in the gloaming yesterday. This was one of the best bumper horses of last season, but a clear leader for the division could yet emerge at Navan tomorrow – when two of Gigginstown Stud’s rising stars, Don Cossack and Rule The World, cross swords in a Grade One novice hurdle.

Turf account

Chirs McGrath's Nap

Standpoint (4.50 Wolverhampton)

Next Best

O’Gorman (8.50 Wolverhampton)

Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

Sport
Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
Sport
There were mass celebrations across Argentina as the country's national team reached their first World Cup final for 24 years
transfersOne of the men to suffer cardiac arrest was 16 years old
Life and Style
lifeHere's one answer to an inquisitive Reddit user's question
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
News
Detail of the dress made entirely of loom bands
news
Life and Style
beauty
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
Sport
German supporters (left) and Argentina fans
world cup 2014Final gives England fans a choice between to old enemies
Arts and Entertainment
A still from the worldwide Dawn of the Planet of the Apes trailer debut
film
News
peopleMario Balotelli poses with 'shotgun' in controversial Instagram pic
News
A mugshot of Ian Watkins released by South Wales Police following his guilty pleas
peopleBandmates open up about abuse
Sport
Basketball superstar LeBron James gets into his stride for the Cleveland Cavaliers
sportNBA superstar announces decision to return to Cleveland Cavaliers
Sport
Javier Mascherano of Argentina tackles Arjen Robben of the Netherlands as he attempts a shot
world cup 2014
Arts and Entertainment
The successful ITV drama Broadchurch starring David Tenant and Olivia Coleman came to an end tonight
tv
Sport
Four ski officials in Slovenia have been suspended following allegations of results rigging
sportFour Slovenian officials suspended after allegations they helped violinist get slalom place
News
14 March 2011: George Clooney testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a hearing titled 'Sudan and South Sudan: Independence and Insecurity.' Clooney is co-founder of the Satellite Sentinel Project which uses private satellites to collect evidence of crimes against civilian populations in Sudan
people
Arts and Entertainment
Balaban is indirectly responsible for the existence of Downton Abbey, having first discovered Julian Fellowes' talents as a screenwriter
tvCast members told to lose weight after snacking on set
Life and Style
More than half of young adults have engaged in 'unwanted but consensual sexting with a committed partner,' according to research
tech
Life and Style
A binge is classed as four or more alcoholic drinks for women and five or more for men, consumed over a roughly two-hour period
tech
Caption competition
Caption competition
Daily World Cup Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Biztalk - outstanding opportunity

£75000 - £85000 per annum + ex bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Biztalk Te...

Trade Desk Specialist (FIX, Linux, Windows, Network Security)

£60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Trade Desk Specialist (FIX, Linux, Windows...

Service Desk Analyst (Windows, Active Directory, ITIL, Reuter)

£35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst (Windows, Active Dire...

PHP Web Developer (HTML5, CSS3, Jenkins, Vagrant, MySQL)

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: PHP Web Develo...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice