Solwhit (right) on his way to winning the Ladbrokes World Hurdle ahead of Celestial Halo at Cheltenham yesterday.
Charles Byrnes produced a magical piece of training to land the featured Ladbrokes World Hurdle with Solwhit at Cheltenham yesterday.
In his pomp, Solwhit was never a million miles behind the dual champion hurdler, Hurricane Fly. Indeed, in November of 2009 he beat him into third place at Punchestown. On four occasions after that, he finished second to Hurricane Fly and, prior to yesterday, was a six-times Grade 1 winner.
But Solwhit then suffered tendon trouble and was off for nearly two years, 708 days to be precise, until returning at Punchestown on New Year’s Eve to chase home Bog Warrior.
Then he went and won at Naas in January, but it was only relatively recently that Byrnes finally gave him the green light to travel to the festival.
The manner in which Byrnes has nursed him back to full health is exemplary and, in Paul Carberry, had the ideal pilot to carry out the tactics which are ideal for Solwhit, to challenge as late as possible.
Bog Warrior carried them along for most of the journey, but there wasn’t huge pace on and that suited a speed horse like Solwhit, having a first try at three miles, admirably.
Heading to the final flight this was a match, with Celestial Halo and Solwhit powering clear.
They rose to the last almost in unison, but Celestial Halo crashed into the flight and Solwhit forged away to score decisively in the end.
“I would be the first to admit that my strike rate over the last year and a half has been very poor,” exclaimed Byrnes.
“But my head man, Keith (Schous) was very happy with this horse and that made me happy.”
Carberry, of course, had been far from certain to take the ride, having aggravated an old shoulder injury when taking a fall on Tuesday.
Said Byrnes: “Paul had only one arm up to a few hours ago, it was just as well he didn’t have to push too hard!
“We never lost faith in him (Solwhit). In the past he was one of the few horses who could put it up to Hurricane Fly.
“He developed a bit of heat in a leg and, though we tried to get him back for last season, we weren’t happy with the horse, so we eased off and left it for another year.
“We believed he still had all the old ability and today he proved he hasn’t lost it. This has been a real team effort from all in the yard to get him back to this level and he has really come together in the last couple of weeks.”
Solwhit, of course, has mostly been Davy Russell’s ride, but it was a bad day for the champion jockey.
He would have had to ride Bog Warrior in the race anyway, as he is retained by the owners of that horse, Gigginstown House Stud, but Russell was struggling to breathe after the second race yesterday and was found to have suffered a punctured lung , having had a fall on Wednesday from Un Beau Matin in the Coral Cup
“Desperate for Davy all round, because Solwhit is his ride,” said Byrnes. “But Paul was the ideal deputy to help the horse get the trip.
“He settled beautifully, Paul put him to sleep for most off the race and he rode exactly the way I wanted him to, with just the one to pick off at the last. It’s fantastic, I’m relived to be honest.
Solwhit is owned by the four-member The Top Of The Hill Syndicate from Wexford town.
Commented Carberry: “Solwhit is a class horse over two miles and he stayed the trip. The English have been dominating this race for a long time and there was also the French horse, Baracouda, so it’s great to ride an Irish winner.
“Charles told me to sit sixth or seventh and to attack at the last. He said it wasn’t that Solwhit wouldn’t stay, but I should come with the one run at the last.
“Celestial Halo was on the my outside coming to the last and I was able to use him a bit to keep my horse going, because I knew he would idle a little if he got to the front.
“It is a brilliant training performance to get him back and he jumped great the whole way.”
Paul Nicholls, who has had a shocking three days, trained Celestial Halo, and said: “If Big Buck’s hadn’t been around, he would have been running over this trip earlier. He’s given us a blinding run, so I’m really pleased.’
Oscar Whisky was the plunge horse of the race from 4-1 in the morning to 9-4 favourite. He jumped deplorably, never promised to be competitive and was tailed off when pulled up before the last.
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