Pat Smullen to try and break duck with Vigil

Ireland’s champion flat jockey to try and finally win at Cheltenham festival

Ireland's champion flat jockey Pat Smullen is set to try and break his Cheltenham festival duck when he again teams up with Vigil for the Weatherbys Champion Bumper in three weeks' time.

The partnership finished fifth in the race last year behind Vigil's stable companion Silver Concorde who famously bridged a 24-year gap between winners at the festival for Dermot Weld.

However, it continued a frustrating run in the race for Smullen who first rode at National Hunt's greatest meeting a dozen years ago when finishing seventh on Govamix and had to settle for third in 2009 on board the subsequent Ascot Gold Cup hero Rite Of Passage.

He was also unplaced on Hidden Universe the following year.


Smullen landed a seventh Irish jockeys title in 2014, breaking the century mark for winners in the process, and Vigil is currently as low as 9 to 1 second-favourite for the race behind Willie Mullins’s favourite Au Quart De Tour.

Vigil’s sole start this season yielded an impressive win at Leopardstown over Christmas when ridden by young amateur Finny Maguire.

“I think it has to be an advantage for Vigil to have run in the race before although it looks an exceptional renewal this year. It’s wide-open but I think our horse is capable of running a good race in it and Pat Smullen will ride,” Weld confirmed.

Vigil’s stable companion Windsor Park is as low as 10 to 1 in some ante-post lists for the Neptune at Cheltenham but Weld may opt for the longer novice option at the festival, the three-mile Albert Bartlett on the fourth and final day.


Windsor Park finished runner up to Nicholls Canyon in the two-and-a-quarter mile Deloitte at Leopardstown earlier this month, with the highly-rated Alvisio Ville behind him in third, and has emerged in good shape from that effort.

“I’ll speak to his owner Dr (Ronan) Lambe and we’ll decide between the Albert Bartlett and the Neptune.

“I think the further he goes the better he is: he stays very well and was only getting going the last day at Leopardstown,” Weld said.

Last year’s festival hero Silver Concorde is a 16 to 1 shot with some firms for the Supreme but is described by Weld as “unlikely” to travel to Cheltenham.

“I’m not ruling him out, especially if the ground turns up really, really good. But I think we’ll wait a little with him and try to build up his experience more. I would say he is unlikely to go,” Weld said.

Dr Lambe's festival flag-bearer will again be his Gold Cup hero Lord Windermere who will defend his blue-riband title, possibly alongside another Lambe-owned festival winner Spring Heeled.

The latter won the Kim Muir last year, a day before Lord Windermere's dramatic Gold Cup victory, which brought to an end an eight-month barren spell for trainer Jim Culloty.

The Co Cork-based trainer is approaching Cheltenham 2015 on the back of an even worse spell on the track, not having saddled a winner in 11 months, although Culloty did saddle a point to point winner for Lambe at Cragmore on Sunday.

Culloty has kept open the option however of aiming Spring Heeled at this Saturday’s BetBright Chase at Kempton which has 21 entries left in it.

Most famous steeplechase

They also include Dogora from Willie Mullins’s yard who ran fifth behind Foxrock in the Leopardstown Chase last month while champion British trainer Paul Nicholls reported: “I will be sending a big team to Kempton including Rolling Aces and either Easter Day or Rocky Creek in the BetBright Chase.”

The weights for April’s Aintree National will be announced on Tuesday and no one will be more interested than Mouse Morris who has indicated his former Cheltenham hero First Lieutenant could be targeted at the world’s most famous steeplechase.

First Lieutenant has been a Cheltenham stalwart in recent seasons but again failed to fire in Grade One company this season in the Hennessy Gold Cup at Leopardstown.

“I think we’ll probably go straight to the National with him now. I think he’s probably more of a handicapper these days than that sort of level. He’s had a lot of hard races over the years and he’s a horse who gives him a hard race every time,” Morris said.

“He won’t go to Cheltenham this year. We’ll cheer him up and look to Aintree with him. It will be interesting to see what mark he gets,” he added.

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor is the racing correspondent of The Irish Times. He also writes the Tipping Point column