Shalone thrown into Spirit hat

Shalone, right, leads over the final fence from Tataniano in a hurdles race at Kempton

Shalone, right, leads over the final fence from Tataniano in a hurdles race at Kempton

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

Irish raiders among the Fontwell fields

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Shalone has become the latest high-profile name to be thrown into the National Spirit Hurdle hat.

Wiltshire trainer Alan King is believed to be aiming his seven-year-old, 139-rated hurdler at the biggest race in Fontwell’s calendar.

The Grade 2 contest, over two-and-a-half miles, is the feature of the course’s Countryside meeting on Sunday, February 27.

For many, it is the ideal pipe-opener before the Cheltenham Festival in March.

And Shalone’s connections will be hoping their chestnut gelding can use it as a springboard to a powerful performance in the Ladbroke’s World Hurdle.

Shalone joins Celestial Halo and two-times winner Lough Derg as possible candidates for the £32,000 winners’ purse at Fontwell.

And his claims are boosted by some impressive form.

A short-head second to leading Cheltenham Gold Cup contender Diamond Harry in his bumper career, the son of Tobougg was third to Zaynar in last season’s Relkeel Hurdle.

Last seen finishing fifth in the Holloway’s Hurdle at Ascot, Shalone had previously defeated the 160-rated Tataniano – a Queen Mother Champion Chase contender – at Kempton.

Ruby Walsh had to settle for second on Paul Nicholls’ charge that day.

The leading jockey broke his leg back in November but is hoping to return to the saddle at the end of this month.

A ride on Celestial Halo could form part of his comeback as he looks to get race-fit for the Festival.

However, top Irish trainer Willie Mullins is likely to run some of his Cheltenham contenders at Leopardstown on the same day, so Walsh may favour a trip across the Irish Sea.

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