03/09/2009 11:00PM

Punjabi upsets in Champion Hurdle


Punjabi outdueled Celestial Halo and Binocular to win a thrilling renewal of the $510,000 Champion Hurdle on opening day of Cheltenham's National Hunt Festival on Tuesday.

Forgotten in the betting at 22-1, Punjabi, a 6-year-old son of the Nureyev stallion Komaite, prevailed by a neck from the 8-1 Celestial Halo, who finished a head in front of the 3-2 favorite, Binocular.

Trained by Nicky Henderson and third in last year's Champion, Punjabi had won the Grade 1 Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Wetherby on Dec. 6 before falling at the second-to-last fence while in the lead in Kempton's Grade 1 Christmas Hurdle on Dec. 26. In the Champion, widely regarded as the world's premier hurdle race, he jumped poorly at the last while vying for the lead, but answered the question asked of him to carry the day under Barry Geraghty, who earlier had won the Arkle Chase aboard Forpadydeplasterer.

In handing Binocular, who is also trained by Henderson, just his second loss in seven starts over hurdles, Punjabi was beating the five previous winners of the Champion Hurdle. Last year's winner, Katchit, was sixth, while Hardy Eustace, winner in both 2004 and 2005, was ninth at 100-1. The 2007 winner, Sublimity, finished fifteenth with the 2006 winner, Brave Inca, 18th in the field of 23. First-time blinkers failed to help second choice Osana. Second in last year's race, he faded to 11th after having set a brisk pace.

Punjabi gave Henderson his fourth Champion Hurdle title, with the trainer's first three having come from 1985 to 1987 with See You Then, who beat American champion jumper Flatterer in the last of his three victories.