Halo should shine in Champion

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The Independent Online

Of the trio who were virtually line abreast at the end of last year's Champion Hurdle, the best effort by any of them since came from the first of them to reappear this season. Celestial Halo (3.20), who split Punjabi and Binocular 12 months ago, looked suitably progressive as he cruised 10 lengths clear of Mamlook at Wincanton in November, a performance which was franked by the runner-up's victory in a valuable handicap on his next outing.

In the interim, Celestial Halo had lost little in defeat by Khyber Kim back at Cheltenham. His only downer came at Leopardstown at Christmas on ground too soft. But today he will have livelier underfoot conditions, the strong pace a horse with his stamina will appreciate and the assistance of first-time blinkers, and he comes to the fray fresh.

It seems, if not a vintage renewal of the two-mile crown, a competitive one, with most of the field of just 12 (and since Sea Pigeon beat eight rivals 30 years ago there has only once been a smaller) covered by a few rating points. That is no more than the gain or loss of a length or two by one good leap or a stumble; at his best Paul Nicholls's six-year-old should be in the mix again. He is proven up the Cheltenham hill – he won the Triumph Hurdle two years ago – and at 10-1 must be value.

If Dunguib is the monster he appears to be then an investment, even at odds-on, in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle, will garner a better minute-for-minute return than could be constructed by any hedge fund manager. The best ploy could be to find one at generous odds for the frame, perhaps Flat Out (1.30).

The novice chase most likely to provide a future star, either over two miles or further, is the Arkle Trophy. Sizing Europe impressed through the first half of the campaign, but Captain Cee Bee (2.05) seemed to have him bang to rights when coming down at the last at Leopardstown in December and has had a confidence-booster since.

Kicks For Free (2.40), narrowly beaten at the meeting last year, is suggested in the handicap chase; Voler La Vedette (4.40) is better over the minimum than two and a half miles but her class can see her home; and L'Ami (4.00) can continue Enda Bolger's cross-country hegemony.

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