Celestial Halo ends Stewart's long wait to enter winner's circle
Saturday 15 March 2008
After nine years, one of this meeting's less welcome ownership statistics disappeared from the ledger when Celestial Halo broke Andy Stewart's duck at the Festival. The multimillionaire stockbroker's first runner at the holy of holies was Cenkos, runner-up in the Arkle Trophy in 2000, and since then he had tried, tried and tried again, and again, and again. Even this week, Celestial Halo had been preceded into the unsaddling circle by third-placed Turko and runner-up Gwanako, but finally took the red, black and white colours into the place of honour after achieving the rare enough feat of making every yard in the Triumph Hurdle. "They say good things come if you wait long enough," said 56-year-old Stewart.
Celestial Halo, seventh in last year's St Leger, was switched to a hurdling career with Paul Nicholls at his former trainer Barry Hills' suggestion. His Flat speed stood him in good stead as Ruby Walsh wound the pace up after halfway, keeping plenty enough in reserve to hold the challenge of the favourite Franchoek by two and a half lengths. The Irishman doubled up in the day's other Grade One contest for novices, the Ballymore Properties Hurdle, heading an Irish clean sweep on Fiveforthree. Trainer Willie Mullins switched the winning six-year-old from the shorter equivalent event on the opening day on the grounds that the extra distance yesterday would not disadvantage him and that Walsh would be available.
He was spot on in his judgement; Fiveforthree needed every yard of the two miles, four and a half furlongs to grind down Velnamar by a neck on the run-in, and did so largely thanks to his rider's switch to the stands rail before the final hurdle. The grey gelding, who runs in the colours of the members of a Dublin-based Sunday rugby team, had raced only once before over hurdles.
"I'm sure having that rail to run against gave him an extra half-length," Mullins said. "And although he's got a lot of speed, when I looked at his pedigree properly I saw stamina too." Yesterday's double gave Walsh the meeting's leading jockey award, equal on three winners with Choc Thornton but with a better countback of second places, three to one. Paul Nicholls took the trainers' title from Alan King, again with three wins and more runner-up spots.
Yesterday produced the meeting's only fatality, when Whispered Promises died after a fall in the Coral Cup.
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