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Last Updated: 21/01/12 4:44pm
Celestial Halo and Desert Cry match strides
Celestial Halo gained a hardfought win in the StanJames.com Champion Hurdle Trial at Haydock.
The popular eight year old looked in trouble in the Grade Two contest approaching the last but dug deep to pull victory out of the fire.
Marsh Warbler had taken the field along and had the eventual winner in trouble approaching the last with Desert Cry seemingly travelling well as he stalked the pair.
Marsh Warbler dived at the last allowing Celestial Halo to close right up while Desert Cry eased between the pair and for half a furlong there was little to choose between the three.
However, as the post loomed Celestial Halo gradually began to draw clear under a Daryl Jacob drive and the favourite eventually scored by a seemingly comfortable margin of two and a quarter lengths from Desert Cry.
Jacob said: "He didn't pick up at the third last as well as thought he would, but he did have a hard race at Newbury.
"He's very tough and very genuine. That's three good races I've won on him this season now.
"He always tries hard, I love him to bits and he's an absolute legend."
Nicholls' representative Tom Jonason: "He jumped the third-last well but then I thought he was going to get done.
"He's had a few quick races and I wouldn't be surprised if he had a little break.
"It will be up to the boss with him for Cheltenham."
Speaking from Ascot, Nicholls said: "That was magic for old Halo. He's tough and he just keeps going.
"We'll leave him in the Champion Hurdle until the death and his next race will probably be the National Spirit at Fontwell.
"I think if he runs at the Festival it will be the World Hurdle."
Jacob was banned two days (February 5-6) for excessive use of the whip.