It was hard work at rain soaked Wincanton this afternoon for both horses and jockeys. The best finish of the day at the West County racecourse or anywhere for that matter came in the course’s big race, the Kingwell Hurdle. Racegoers and TV viewers were treated to a titanic battle between two really brave horses. With two hurdles to go Mille Chief, the 15/8 favourite looked in command going easily behind Celestial Halo who had been under pressure since the turn. But Celestial Halo kept on giving and approaching the last looked the likely winner until his hind legs clouted the final hurdle. Mille Chief took it up but all the while Celestial Halo was fighting back and they flashed past the line together. From the freeze frame it looked as though the favourite has pinched it and indeed he had, by a nose. The runner up was a generous 20/1 in the morning but by the off the market had adjusted his price to 8/1, a more accurate reflection of his chances. Celestial Halo has long been a favourite of mine having landed the NAP for jpfestival.com in 2008.
The Kingwell has been a good trial for the Champion Hurdle with Kribensis in 1990, Hors La Loi III in 2002 and Katchit in 2008 going on to Cheltenham glory. For a change, bookies didn’t use a pre-Cheltenham win as a reason for cutting a horses odds and Mille Chief remains a general 12/1 chance. Surprisingly, Paddy Power and Coral actually pushed him out to 14/1 which is a very fair price. Celestial Halo will miss Cheltenham and runs next in the National Spirit at Fontwell before running again in the Aintree Hurdle; a race he fell in last year when travelling well.
Alan King had another Cheltenham Festival contender in action in the shape of JP Festival Triumph Hurdle tip Smad Place who won the concluding Novice Hurdle. He was workmanlike for a 1/4 shot and had to be ridden out to see off Jump City but did it well enough. You get the feeling this horse that will do better when upped in class and a fast run Triumph and the uphill finish should suit him down to the ground. It should also be noted that he was running against his elders here and it was 33 lengths back to the 3rd horse, Aragail. Smad Place was cut from 12/1 by 10/1 by Betfred but 12/1 is widely available.
JP, 19 February 2011