Stewart hopes Celestial Halo gets shot at Punjabi in Champion
OWNER Andy Stewart is banking on a change of luck in Ireland this weekend when his Celestial Halo lines up in Leopardstown's Toshiba Irish Champion Hurdle, and he would love to see another clash take place with old rival Punjabi.
The flamboyant jumps owner has sent several runners to Ireland in recent years, but tasted success only once, in the Galway Plate with the heavily punted Oslot. "We've had some good horses run there, and we've had plenty of seconds, but just the one winner," he said.
Stewart is adamant that this is not a time for dithering over running plans for Festival contenders. "We just don't know what the weather is going to do, but we know they are going to race at Leopardstown. If we don't run, and say wait for Wincanton, and that's called off, then where are we?
"If Nicky Henderson decides to send Punjabi over to Leopardstown on Sunday, we'd love to take him on, the more the merrier. Celestial Halo beat him fair and square when they were both beaten by Khyber Kim in the Boylesports Hurdle (at Cheltenham last month)."
Henderson's plans will certainly have a bearing on the outcome of this Irish Champion. But one rising star which will not take her place is the Colm Murphy-trained Voler La Vedette, which pulled a muscle in her hindquarters yesterday.
This will be another crucial weekend for trainer Paul Nicholls, who not only sends Celestial Halo to Ireland but also relies on Twist Magic, which was one of 10 acceptors yesterday for Saturday's Victor Chandler Chase at Ascot. Totesport have installed Twist Magic as 6/5 favourite. They then offer 9/4 Petit Robin, 5/1 Well Chief, 10/1 Cornas, 12/1 bar.
Meanwhile, Nicholls will be keeping an eye on going reports for Ascot as Pistolet Noir is pencilled in to have his first outing for the leading stable, having been purchased by the Stewart family and Paul Roy after winning at Cheltenham for Nick Williams.
Henderson seems to be leaning towards Haydock's sportingbet.com Champion Hurdle Trial with Punjabi and has interestingly entered Punchestowns in the Grade Two sportingbet.com Altcar Novice Chase, over two miles and four furlongs on the same card.
Should he take up the engagement, he is likely to meet the exciting chasing prospect Diamond Harry, which is set to make his debut over fences in the contest.
Leopardstown's two-day meeting this weekend is likely to take place on heavy ground, although the meeting is in no danger of being abandoned.
Saturday sees the Grade Two MCR Novice Chase and the valuable Leopardstown Handicap Chase, while Sunday's highlight is the Toshiba Irish Champion Hurdle.
"Our ground would be heavy at the moment," said general manager Tom Burke. "We don't anticipate any problems at the moment. It's looking a very strong card so it should be a super weekend." (Daily Telegraph, London)