National Spirit race attracts top contenders

FONTWELL Park racecourse is preparing for one of its special meetings of the year, which will feature the National Spirit Hurdle race.

This year’s National Spirit Hurdle, run over the trip of two and half miles, is worth £32,500 in prize money. It forms part of a seven race card at Countryside Race Day on Sunday February 27.

The Grade 2 National Hunt hurdle race is open to horses aged four years or older. It is run at Fontwell Park over a distance of about 2 miles and 4 furlongs, and during its running there are ten hurdles to be jumped.

The event is named after National Spirit, a dual winner of the Champion Hurdle in the 1940s. National Spirit won five times at Fontwell Park, including three successive victories in the Rank Challenge Cup.

The National Spirit Hurdle was established at Fontwell Park in 1965, and the inaugural running was won by Salmon Spray. During its early years it was also won by Comedy of Errors - both of which went on to be top class horses.

For a period the race was run over 2¼ miles, and it served as a trial for the Champion Hurdle (Beech Road won both events in 1989). It was discontinued in 1994, but its title was revived for a handicap race which took place annually from 1996 to 1998.

Then it was relaunched as a conditions race over 2 miles and 2½ furlongs in 1999, and was extended to its present length in 2004.

The National Spirit Hurdle is now regarded as a trial for the World Hurdle. The only horse to have won both races in the same year was My Way de Solzen in 2006. Another horse to have achieved victory in both events, albeit in different seasons, was Baracouda, trained in France by Francois Doumen.

This year’s race is already hotting up. Celestial Halo, the runner-up in the 2009 Champion Hurdle, will have his next race in the National Spirit Hurdle on February 27. The seven year old is owned by leading jump racing supporter Andy Stewart and trained by Paul Nicholls.

Trainer Alan King has indicated that his highly regarded seven year old Shalone is being aimed at the race as is the ultra tough Lough Derg who took the prize in 2008 and 2009 for trainer David Pipe and owner Bill Frewen. Lough Derg returned to form with a recent third place at Ascot.

Celestial Halo was an expensive purchase from flat racing when trained by Barry Hills. He made an immediate impact over jumps when winning the 2008 Triumph Hurdle, ridden by Ruby Walsh. Last year he finished fourth to Binocular in the Champion Hurdle. He started this jumps season running over fences but fell first time out then ran disappointingly at Newbury on his second attempt. He has reverted back to hurdles with two placed efforts over two and a half miles at Cheltenham.

This year’s National Spirit Hurdle, forms part of a seven race card at Countryside Race Day at Fontwell on February 27.