Andy Stewart believes Celestial Halo can fill the shoes of Big Buck's at Aintree
Last Updated: 06/04/13 2:52pm
Celestial Halo and Solwhit meet again on Saturday
Owner Andy Stewart believes Celestial Halo is a more than capable understudy for his injured superstar Big Buck's in the John Smith's Liverpool Hurdle at Aintree on Saturday.
Big Buck's has carried the Stewart family colours to victory in the Grade One contest over an extended three miles for the last four years, and on each of those occasions had gone to Merseyside on the back of victory in the Ladbrokes World Hurdle at Cheltenham.
Celestial Halo went to last month's Festival as an unconsidered 40/1 shot for staying honours, but he belied his odds when finishing second to Solwhit, beaten just two and a half lengths despite making a mistake at the final flight.
"If he hadn't fluffed his lines at the last, I'm not saying he would have beaten Solwhit, but he would have got half a length closer to him," said Stewart.
"I think everybody thought we only had him in the World Hurdle because Big Buck's was sidelined, but he ran on merit.
"We'll have to see if we can reverse the form with Solwhit, but I also have a feeling that after the way in which Alan King's horses were running on Thursday, especially when he won the first race quite easily with L'Unique, it might be that Smad Place runs a big race."
Solwhit's trainer Charles Byrnes is concerned the ground might be too fast for his horse who'd had nearly two years off with leg problems before returning to action on New Year's Eve.
"I hope it doesn't dry up too much more," said the County Limerick handler.
"I'm sure they'll make sure it's safe but with the problems we've had with him I wouldn't want to risk him.
"I walked the course on Thursday and it was fine but it will have dried up by now. We'll reassess things closer to the time."
Alan King was delighted to see Smad Place stay on dourly to claim third place in the World Hurdle and is expecting another solid performance.
"It was great to see Smad Place come right back to form in the World Hurdle at Cheltenham, where I was pleased to see him staying on so well at the finish to take third for the second consecutive year," the Barbury Castle trainer told www.alankingracing.co.uk.
"He has done everything we have asked of him since the Festival and we are going there with high hopes."
King also runs Medinas, who is on a hat-trick after wins in the Welsh Champion Hurdle at Ffos Las and the Coral Cup at the Cheltenham Festival.
"We have also decided to run Medinas here rather than have him humping 11st 12lb in the three-mile handicap hurdle," he said.
"He is only small, and, while he has never stopped improving and has been one of our success-stories of the season, it would have been a tough ask, and as he is rated only 4lb behind Smad Place why not go for the glory."
African Gold found only At Fishers Cross too good when runner-up in the Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle after previously notching a four-timer.
Trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies has no qualms about throwing him in at Grade One level.
"I think he'll be a lot better for running on this better ground and we're very excited about the race," said the Naunton handler.
"He seems in good form and because it's probably going to be his last run over hurdles before he goes chasing next year, we thought we might as well have a go at the big race rather than the novice."
Attaglance won a two-and-a-half-mile handicap hurdle at this meeting last year and is having his final race over the smaller obstacles before being campaigned over fences next term.
"The reason we're running him is because he's in good order and he's going to go novice chasing next season," said trainer Malcolm Jefferson.
"His owners wanted to have a go at a Graded hurdle first."