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Rupert set for step up in class

RSA CHASE favourite Time For Rupert is bang on course for the Argento Chase at Cheltenham on January 29 after coming through his latest exercise in fine form.

The Paul Webber-trained gelding has also been entered for the Cheltenham Gold Cup and his trainer admits he will find out a lot more about last year's World Hurdle runner-up when he runs against more experienced horses.

Webber's seven-year-old has already won both his starts over fences at Cheltenham under jockey William Kennedy and is as low as 5/2 with some bookmakers for the novice event.

"He's on course for the Argento Chase at Cheltenham, in which he'll meet more experienced chasers. That race should tell us a lot," said Webber.

Webber also revealed a plan for his smart hurdler Australia Day, which has been put away during the winter months due to his preference for good ground.

"We locked him away for the winter and the plan is to go to Ireland. The Punchestown Festival is later than usual which gives us a better chance of getting his ground," Webber said.

"He'll be nice and fresh for their Champion Hurdle after possibly one run on the Flat or a couple of racecourse gallops."

Durham trainer Howard Johnson got a timely boost yesterday when his promising youngster Zhakiera Spirit ran away with the mares' bumper at Newcastle.

Johnson -- who was not at the track -- is facing serious charges from the BHA and could face a possible ban, so the wide-margin victory of the sister to Tolworth runner-up Megastar will have lifted his mood slightly as she won by nearly a furlong.

The daughter of Kayf Tara will now be aimed at the final of the mares' bumper series at Newbury.

Meanwhile, Dunguib is likely to make his reappearance in the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown on Sunday week rather than in Saturday's Limestone Lad Hurdle at Naas.

Trainer Philip Fenton believes the extra week's preparation will benefit the 2009 Weatherbys Champion Bumper winner for his first run back after being badly held up by the cold snap.

"He's very unlikely to run on Saturday. It looks like he will go to Leopardstown on Sunday week instead," said the Co Tipperary trainer. "He's in good form and I'm very happy with him, but it just gives us an extra week to get a bit more work into him.

"We were held up by the weather, otherwise he'd have gone to Naas. We had three weeks of frost and snow. Other than that we'd have been happy to run on Saturday."

Irish Independent