Pat Smullen to launch another bid for Cheltenham glory

Irish champion flat jockey will partner First Figaro in Weatherbys Champion Bumper

Pat Smullen: “The atmosphere at Cheltenham is unbelievable, very special, and  is something the flat lacks a bit. ” Photo: Lorraine O’Sullivan/Inpho

Pat Smullen: “The atmosphere at Cheltenham is unbelievable, very special, and is something the flat lacks a bit. ” Photo: Lorraine O’Sullivan/Inpho

 

Ireland’s champion flat jockey Pat Smullen is set to again try and secure Cheltenham glory next week when he teams up with Dermot Weld’s First Figaro in the Weatherbys Champion Bumper.

The Day Two festival finale has become a regular if frustrating National Hunt detour for this country’s outstanding flat rider who has finished fifth in the race for the last two years aboard Vigil.

In 2014 Smullen watched Robbie McNamara land the bumper on the Weld outsider Silver Concorde while he was also placed in the race in 2009 aboard his subsequent Ascot Gold Cup hero, Rite Of Passage.

“Usually if the boss (Weld) has one he lets me ride in the race. First Figaro is more of a flat type of horse and a bit of an outsider at the moment but the drier the ground the better he’ll be. He looks a good ride,” Smullen said.

First Figaro is as low as 16-1 in some ante-post lists for a contest in which Smullen has significant experience.

“It can be rough. Riding for Dermot the horses are well-educated and know what they’re doing which is a big plus. I think it is the undulations of the course which contributes to it being a rough race.

“The undulations catch out inexperienced horses, and has them all at sea. It’s a race I’d love to win: some very good horses have got beaten there,” he added.

Smullen is gearing up for the start of the Irish turf flat season at the Curragh a couple of days after Cheltenham where he is likely to team up with Ashraf in the Tote Irish Lincolnshire.

But he recognises the special allure of jump racing’s greatest festival.

“If anything comes close to it on the flat, it’s probably the Melbourne Cup. The atmosphere at Cheltenham is unbelievable, very special, and which, for me, is something the flat lacks a bit,” he said.

Covert Love’s Group One wins in the Irish Oaks and Prix de l’Opera were highlights among Smullen’s increased link-ups with cross-channel connections in 2015 and he expects to ride outside Ireland more in 2016.

“Whenever I’m available, and the boss doesn’t require me, I’ll try and get over there for the bigger meetings and I’ll be putting plenty work into that,” he said.

“We’re into the last two weeks now before the flat starts and I’m looking forward to the year. It’s always important to get a good start. Whether the horses here (Welds’s) are as far forward as last year is questionable but they’re very healthy and well and will be competitive.

Mapped out

One horse that won’t line up in the Cheltenham bumper is the Aidan O’Brien-trained Aspen Colorado with Joseph O’Brien reporting: “I spoke with JP (McManus) and Frank (Berry, racing manager) this morning, Aspen Colorado will not go to Cheltenham and the plan is to go to Limerick on April 3rd.”

This Thursday’s scheduled meeting at Limerick must pass an 8.00 inspection on Wednesday morning.

The fixture is being staged on the inside course, and the racing line on that track is currently unraceable.

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