Bell ‘chuffed’ by star-studded Spirit cast

The sun ought to shine for Fontwell's Thursday afternoon racing

Irish raiders among the Fontwell fields

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Phil Bell revelled in the star-studded cast for tomorrow’s National Spirit Hurdle and insisted: It’s the best we’ve had for years.

Paul Nicholls targeted his maiden success in the Grade 2 contest as he declared stable star Celestial Halo.

The former Triumph Hurdle champion will be the headline act, alongside Alan King’s 161-rated entry Karabak.

Reigning champion Trenchant and Sentry Duty were also given the green light to run.

While, after outlining her intentions in The News yesterday, Rebecca Curtis confirmed Black Jack Blues would take his chance.

Afsoun, Tarkari and Warne’s Way complete the field, which has delighted Bell.

Fontwell’s general manager said: ‘It’s a cracking line-up, probably one of the best we’ve had. Karabak, Celestial Halo and Sentry Duty are there, all representing top trainers.

‘It must be the best field we have had for some years.

‘I’m really pleased. If we get some good weather, we should get a really good crowd, too.’

One name missing from the cast list is two-times winner Lough Derg.

The Fontwell favourite was expected race but, after a dis-appointing display at Ascot earlier this month, was withdrawn yesterday.

He would have had his work cut out to complete a treble tomorrow, though.

Bell reckons it could finally be Nicholls’ turn to celebrate success in one of the few titles he has yet to lift in his prolific training career.

‘I’m really chuffed to see Paul Nicholls has left Celestial Halo in there,’ said Bell.

‘He ran last Saturday, so for him to run twice in a week is great.

‘They are aiming to run the horse at Aintree, possibly at Punchestown but then on the flat at Royal Ascot.

‘I’d like Celestial Halo to win for the owner, Andy Stewart.

‘I know Andy quite well and he has been a really good supporter of Fontwell.

‘The form he is in is top class, too. He should have won last Saturday but made a mistake at the last.

‘Without that he would have won and should have a great chance tomorrow.’

Tony McCoy has triumphed three times in the race, which this year carries a top prize of £32,500.

After wins on Lady Cricket, Classified and Blue Canyon, he will ride Celestial Halo’s chief rival Karabak.

And Bell would be surprised to see the duo slugging out a thrilling finish in front of the track’s new 888sport Premier Grandstand.

‘It is between Karabak and Celestial Halo, for me, he said.

‘Sentry Duty runs well fresh, though, and his trainer Nicky Henderson is in great nick so it wouldn’t be the biggest shock to see that one run well.

‘Whatever happens, it should be a great race.’

The Grade 2 National Spirit Hurdle, which is run over two miles and four furlongs, is the feature race of tomorrow seven-race card at Fontwell and is due off at 3.45pm.

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