Horse racing: Celestial's handed a Cheltenham challenge

Andy Stewart's hand in the staying hurdling division could become even stronger this weekend if Celestial Halo impresses at Cheltenham.

Stewart's red, white and black silks have been carried to victory in the last two runnings of the Ladbrokes World Hurdle by Big Buck's, who made a winning reappearance at Newbury last month.

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Celestial Halo, pictured right, won his fair share of decent prizes as a two-mile hurdler but fell a fraction short of top-class and was sent novice chasing at the start of the season.

But a fall at Exeter and an ordinary run at Newbury caused plans to change and Stewart and his trainer Paul Nicholls will try him back up at two and a half miles in the Unicoin Homes Relkeel Hurdle.

"He will definitely take his chance in that, but he might just need the run," warned Stewart.

"He won't need it fitness-wise but maybe just mentally as he fell last season at Aintree and again at Exeter.

"If he runs well on Saturday and looks to be staying on, then he might end up running against Big Buck's somewhere along the line.

"I don't think he'll beat Big Buck's, but we'll see if he stays this weekend anyway."

Of Big Buck's himself, Stewart added: "He's come out of Newbury fine and he'll definitely go to the Long Walk at Ascot next.

"I personally think if there is going to be a race that he's beaten in this season, then the Long Walk will be the one. Ruby (Walsh) and Paul (Nicholls) won't have it and think I'm mad, but I just think he might get found out on a right-handed track, going down Swinley Bottom. After that I think he'll go for the Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham in January.

"We had thought about sending Celestial Halo for that but it's three months between Ascot and the World Hurdle and that's a long time for a horse to do absolutely nothing.

"Last year we gave him a lot of work rather than running him, but people go to the races to see these horses.

"I was amazed at Newbury last time as people were asking for his autograph and taking photographs on their mobile phones!

"It's a privilege to own a horse like that, so let's get him out at Cheltenham again and see if we can win the Cleeve."

Meanwhile, Cheltenham's executive believe they may have ridden out the worst of the cold weather and give this weekend's International meeting every chance of going ahead.

The two-day fixture starts on Friday and the chase and hurdles courses have been covered over since Sunday with both tracks currently rated as

good.

The cross country course, which is partly covered, is good, good to firm and frozen in places.

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