That could change, and Celestial Halo is the horse that is starting to make it happen. On Sunday he had his first run on the continent, winning the Grade 2 Prix La Barca at Auteuil, at the delightful odds, for those who spotted them, of 32/1 on the pari-mutuel, more than three times those offered by British bookmakers. Now admittedly, Celestial Halo had not won a race since taking the Champion Hurdle Trial at Haydock in January 2012, but for a horse that had won eight of his 36 races, and finished runner up in the World Hurdle just a couple of months ago, that does seem a tad on the generous side. Perhaps he wasn’t particularly well known there.
The win was a first in France for both trainer and jockey; a hard fought one it was, too, with Celestial Halo battling on after the final hurdle to lead close home. Jacob said after the race, “He got the trip well and the soft ground helped him. I had a good run on him when we were second in the World Hurdle so was always confident he’d stay the trip. He jumped well the whole way and I had a great position so I was always happy.”
After a day consulting with owner Andy Stewart, Nicholls revealed yesterday that the combination would return for the French Champion Hurdle over a distance of three miles next month. He said, “We’ll go back for the French Champion Hurdle on 9 June. The ground, trip – it looked an ideal race for him (on Sunday). He stayed well and it augurs well for the race there in three weeks’ time. I think it will be fine. I think the three miles will suit him and be better for him and we’re really looking forward to that because it’s a big prize.”