HE was hailed in the Observer three weeks ago as the one to watch in Fontwell’s National Spirit Hurdle – and Celestial Halo lived up to that billing with a comfortable victory in the mud-splattered big race.
The Paul Nicholls-trained runner romped home by six lengths in a field which had plenty of quality even if its quantity was reduced by the rain that hit the track’s £60,000 card.
It was a first victory since November 2009 for the Andy Stewart-owned horse as he completed a decisive success over last year’s winner Trenchant.
Celestial Halo remains in both the Ladbrokes World Hurdle and Vincent O’Brien County Hurdle at Cheltenham although owner Stewart expects the seven-year-old to bypass the festival.
A delighted Stewart said: “He’ll stay in the World Hurdle until the five-day declaration stage in case something happens to Big Buck’s. All is well with him at the moment, so Celestial is likely to go for the Aintree Hurdle.”
In atrocious conditions, Celestial Halo tracked Afsoun while the Alan King-trained pair Trenchant and favourite Karabak followed.
The runners negotiated the first circuit nicely but at the fifth hurdle, early in the second circuit, Karabak slipped when landing, jerking jockey Tony McCoy up his neck. The pair then dropped to the rear of the field.
Celestial Halo had surged into the lead and cleared the final hurdle without drama before running on up the hill to a six-length success.
Trenchant, winner of the race 12 months ago, stayed on to take second.
There were three non-runners put off by the wet weather.
Fontwell general manager Phil Bell hailed Celestial Halo as a ‘great winner’ and was delighted by the success of the day, despite the afternoon’s rain.
A crowd of close to 3,500 was the biggest the meeting had attracted for three years and they saw plenty of top-notch racing. The £15,000 Play Poker At tspoker.com Novices’ Chase was taken by Fruity O’Rooney, ridden by Jamie Moore and trained by Gary Moore for Heart of the South Racing and will now be tested in a race in Auteuil, France.
The Fuller’s London Pride Foxhunters Trial Hunters’ Chase was won by Josh Halley on Herons Well.
Bell said: “It was a fabulous day – the rain was too late to hit the size of the crowd but was a shame. Punters enjoyed our jockeys’ mastermind and the chance to meet a racehorse, and the Racehorse Sanctuary raised more than £20,000 from a charity lunch.”