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Irish duo secure top bumper rides

On a day when Ruby Walsh was significantly declared to do 10st in the Racing Post Chase aboard the Paul Nicholls-trained Fistral Beach tomorrow -- a weight the jockey would rarely get down to do -- there were also some very intriguing jockey bookings confirmed for the Champion Bumper at Cheltenham next month.

Two of Ireland's leading Flat jockeys have both booked themselves significant mounts in the Grade 1 contest which was previously won by their Flat peer Jamie Spencer in 2002, when he partnered the Edward O'Grady-trained Pizarro.

S ensational

Pat Smullen, who rode the classy Rite Of Passage to be third to the sensational Dunguib in last season's renewal, is again expected to have a ride in the race for his boss Dermot Weld, who yet again has a couple of leading candidates for the race.

The master of Rosewell House has both Elegant Concorde and Hidden Universe prominent in the betting for the final race of the second day -- St Patrick's Day -- and the former champion, who was speaking from Dubai before returning to Dundalk this evening, said that he was eagerly looking forward to returning to the Cotswolds.

"We've got two very nice horses that have won both their bumpers and the plan is to go with one of them to the Cheltenham Bumper so hopefully I'll get the ride on one of them," said Smullen.

Amateur rider Robbie Mc-Namara has won on both and Weld also has the well fancied Rite Of Passage in the Neptune Investments Management Novices Hurdle on the same day to make an enviable team.

"Which ever he puts me on I'd be very glad to ride," Smullen continued. "Hidden Universe has been there since he was a yearling, I know him well and we always thought he was going to be a nice horse and was always going to be a bumper type and the patience the boss has shown has paid off -- he won easily first time out.

"Rite of Passage ran well in it last year. It takes a good horse to win the Cheltenham Bumper as you can see from last year.

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"I'm very fortunate to have a boss who usually has a decent bumper horse and gives you the opportunity to ride. It would be great to win and hopefully we'd have a good chance."

While Smullen's booking would have come as little surprise to the seasoned punter, the announcement that Noel Glynn has snapped up his fellow Banner native, Kieren Fallon, for the ride on Old McDonald, will have come as news.

Fallon will be gracing the race for the second time having rode in it back in 2005 and while the bookies make his chance an outside one, the trainer is hopeful he can confirm his Fairyhouse form with leading hopeful Tavern Times.

"We are from the same parish in County Clare and Kieren was a neighbour of mine so I decided to get him booked and I couldn't have got much better," Glynn revealed.

"This is a good horse and he won nicely at Ludlow last time. The time before he was second to Tavern Times at Fairyhouse and was maybe a bit unlucky. Tavern Times is one of the favourites for the Champion Bumper and I'd like to think we'll be wherever he is.

"Whether it will be just in front of him or just behind him I don't know, hopefully in front.

"Hopefully it will be a great day. As an owner and a trainer, Cheltenham is what you dream about."

Other significant news regarding the Festival was the positive bulletin from Willie Mullins regarding his un-beaten French import Mikael D'Haguenet who schooled on Wednesday after racing at Fairyhouse.

"Mikael D'Haguenet schooled yesterday with Ruby and he jumped very well. I am very happy ith his progress," Mullins revealed.


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