Weld hoping Rite can book festival Passage
Dermot Weld is keeping his fingers crossed that Rite Of Passage can enhance his Cheltenham claims in today's Book Your Festival Tickets Hurdle at Punchestown.
The six-year-old was beaten into third by the mighty Dunguib when sent off favourite for last season's Champion Bumper at Prestbury Park and is one from one over hurdles.
The talented youngster started off this campaign with an impressive victory over subsequent winner Grey Friend at Leopardstown, but the trainer is reluctant to make long-term plans.
"He's well, but he has a tough assignment with Healy's Bar in there as he's rated 144," said Weld yesterday. "That is a fair high rating, so it's going to be a stiff task for our horse and we'll just see what happens.
"He's running over two-and-a-half miles for the first time but I'm not looking beyond tomorrow. He's in both novice races at Cheltenham but I've not even committed him to going there and he could even go back to the Flat."
Rite Of Passage is a best-priced 14/1 for the Supreme Novices' Hurdle, but heads the market at 4/1 for the Neptune Investment Management Novices' Hurdle over half a mile further.
Enda Bolger takes on Rite Of Passage with L'Ami, while his other cross-country ace, Garde Champetre, is also having a prep race for Cheltenham in the Five Day Festival Hurdle over two miles.
"They have to blow their cobwebs away -- neither have had a run since before Christmas -- so we're trying to put the finishing touches to them," said the Limerick trainer.
"I wanted Garde Champetre to have an easier time, so he's in the two-miler. I didn't want to go over two-and-a-half miles with him. L'Ami's had a wind operation and this is his first outing since then."
Rite Of Passage should win without too much difficulty, with Healy's Bar chosen as the one to chase him home for the forecast.
There should also be a convincing win for Won In The Dark in the Five Day Festival Hurdle. Sabrina Harty's charge has not visited the winner's enclosure for quite some time, but he has been competing in the highest grade and while the six-year-old would prefer better ground, Davy Russell's mount should have too much class for his rivals.
Russell also has decent prospects aboard Farringdon in the day's other conditions event, the Punchestown Pavilion Hurdle. The seven-year-old was runner-up to Beroni at this venue on New Year's Eve and while his chance is respected, he may have to give best to Deutschland.
The Willie Mullins-trained gelding started favourite for the Galway Hurdle last summer, but got going in that event too late before running on to finish fourth. Despite a five-month absence from the track, the champion trainer is likely to have him in good nick and the seven-year-old can land the spoils under Ruby Walsh.
Mullins should also visit the winner's enclosure with Flat Out in the maiden hurdle, while his well-touted Allee Garde is hard to oppose in the bumper.
The mares maiden hurdle looks a good opportunity for the Hennessy Gold Cup-winning partnership of Paul Nolan and Alain Cawley to strike with the luckless Golden Sunbird.