Cheltenham Festival: Solwhit surges to victory in the World Hurdle

Solwhit arrived late on the scene to a fairytale victory for Celestial Halo

Solwhit completed his remarkable return from injury to gain a fairytale success in the Ladbrokes World Hurdle at Cheltenham.

Charles Byrnes' charge was sidelined for the best part of two years with leg troubles before returning to action on New Year's Eve last year.

One of the few to really serve it up to two-mile king Hurricane Fly in the past, Solwhit was tackling three miles for the first time here and benefited from a classic Paul Carberry waiting ride.

Bog Warrior and Bryan Cooper, replacing the injured Davy Russell, set out to make all, taking over from Reve De Sivola very early on while Carberry was content to settle at the rear of the field.

As they came down the hill all the big guns were in trouble with Oscar Whisky and Peddlers Cross particularly disappointing.

It briefly looked as though Celestial Halo could provide owners the Stewart family with an unexpected win in the absence of their perennial winner Big Buck's, but it was Solwhit who found a turn of pace to put the race to bed.

He triumphed by two and a half lengths with Smad Place filling third spot again, just as he had done 12 months ago, a further three lengths adrift.

It was a stroke of luck for Carberry who only became available when his intended mount Monksland picked up an injury last week.

Carberry was also out of action on Wednesday as he recovered from a fall on the opening day.

The win took Ireland's tally to nine for the week and was the first Irish-trained success in the race since Dorans Pride in 1995.

Carberry said: "He was idling a bit, I was always afraid to take it up too early.

"Charles said to attack at the last so I timed it as well as I could. Celestial Halo made a bit of a mistake at the last, he pricked his ears a bit but kept going to the line."

Byrnes said: "It's brilliant. A lot of work went into him, everyone at home has looked after him so well and it's a big thank you to the owners for sticking with it.

"He had a bit of heat in his leg, we tried to bring him back last year but we weren't happy so we had to give him the rest of the year (off).

"He's a serious horse. He's the only horse that could run Hurricane Fly close and he hasn't lost it.

"He rode him exactly the way I wanted him to ride it. I couldn't get Davy Russell (claimed for Bog Warrior), it was bad luck on him because that's his ride.

"I felt someone like Paul would suit the horse. he was plenty of jockey for him when I couldn't get Davy.

"We knew he was coming back, but I kind of felt in the last few weeks that it had come together and I was very happy coming here. Keith, who rides him all the time, was very happy with him as well.

"It's fantastic."

On future plans, Byrnes said: "He definitely won't go to Aintree, but he may go to Punchestown and we will also have a look at the French Champion Hurdle."

Nicholls said of Celestial Halo: "He would probably have run in the World Hurdle before, but there was no point in him taking Big Buck's on.

"The hardest job I had was getting him fit enough really. He needed his first run, hopefully he'll tighten up a bit more after today and it opens up lots of options.

"We didn't know what to expect today, but it was an admirable run - a brilliant run."

Andy Stewart said: "I was getting a bit excited there for a moment, but well done to the winner.

"Hopefully the winner, Celestial Halo and the big fellow (Big Buck's) will all be back next year.

"My expectations today were that the horse would run a reasonable race, I thought he might come in the first four or five.

"Coming over the last I thought at one point we might win the race, but he was getting a bit tired and he was beaten by a better horse on the day.

"The aim was to go to Liverpool and he probably still will."

PA

 

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