Cheltenham: Celestial out to redeem reputation over hurdles
Andy Stewart's hand in the staying hurdling division could become even stronger this weekend if Celestial Halo impresses at Cheltenham.
Stewart's red, white and black silks have been carried to victory in the last two runnings of the Ladbrokes World Hurdle by Big Buck's, who made a winning reappearance at Newbury last month.
Celestial Halo won his fair share of decent prizes as a two-mile hurdler, but fell a fraction short of top-class and was sent novice chasing at the start of the season, but a fall at Exeter and an ordinary run at Newbury caused plans to change and Stewart and his trainer Paul Nicholls will try him back up at two-and-a-half miles in the Unicoin Homes Relkeel Hurdle.
“He will definitely take his chance in that, but he might just need the run,” warned Stewart.
“He won't need it fitness-wise, but maybe just mentally as he fell last season at Aintree and again at Exeter.
“If he runs well on Saturday and looks to be staying on, then he might end up running against Big Buck's again somewhere along the line.
“I don't think he'll beat Big Buck's, but we'll see if he stays this weekend anyway.”
Of Big Buck's himself, Stewart added: “He's come out of Newbury fine and he'll definitely go to the Long Walk at Ascot next.
“I personally think if there is going to be a race that he's beaten in this season, then the Long Walk will be the one.
“Ruby Walsh and Paul Nicholls won't have it and think I'm mad, but I just think he might get found out on a right-handed track, going down Swinley Bottom.
“After that I think he'll go for the Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham in January.
“We had thought about sending Celestial Halo for that, but it's three months between Ascot and the World Hurdle and that's a long time for a horse to do absolutely nothing.
“Last year we gave Big Buck’s a lot of work rather than running him, but people go to the races to see these horses.
“I was amazed at Newbury last time as people were taking photographs on their mobile phones.
“It's a privilege to own a horse like that, so let's get him out a Cheltenham again and see if we can win the Cleeve.”
Poquelin is expected to challenge for a repeat victory in the Vote AP Gold Cup at the same meeting rather than taking up his alternative engagement in the Keith Prowse Hospitality Tingle Creek Chase.
The rearranged Tingle Creek has been earmarked for Paul Nicholls' two-mile champion Master Minded and his stablemate is only entered as a precaution.
Poquelin is not far off the best over two-and-a-half miles, landing the Cup 12 months ago when it was run under the sponsorship of Boylesports before going on to finish second in the Ryanair Chase.
“We gave him an entry in the Tingle Creek, but it was only if the ground came up too quick for Master Minded and the race really cut up,” explained owner Andy Stewart.