Cheltenham-bound Passage made of the rite stuff

RITE Of Passage hardened as favourite for the Neptune Investments Novice Hurdle at Cheltenham after recording what his trainer Dermot Weld described as a “satisfactory” win in the Book Your Festival Tickets Hurdle at Punchestown yesterday.

The 2/7 favourite was given a confidence-boosting ride by Robbie McNamara, tracking the leader Hilgib until turning for home and staying on to beat Healys Bar (officially rated 144) by a length, without being asked a serious question.

Rite Of Passage, a six-year-old son of Giant’s Causeway, jumped adequately - being allowed get in close to a couple of flights by McNamara, before asserting with the minimum of fuss.

Trainer Weld declared: “That was a satisfactory performance and that’s as far as I’d go. He wasn’t spectacular or over impressive, but did it nicely. The inside track is a bit tight for him but I wanted to run him again. He needed the experience of an undulating track.

“He’ll take his chance in the two mile five furlong race (Neptune Investments Novice Hurdle) at Cheltenham now. That’s the logical thing to do.”

Rite Of Passage is now 3/1 favourite, with Boylesports and Paddy Power, for his Cheltenham target while William Hill offer 7/2.

Also Cheltenham-bound is the Willie Mullins-trained Flat Out, which made a successful hurdling debut in the Festival Hospitality Maiden Hurdle.

Ridden by Emmet Mullins, the dual bumper-winner made virtually all before slamming Better Times by seven lengths and prompting his trainer to state: “I think a fair bit of this fellow and thought about training him for the bumper at Cheltenham. But he’s called Flat Out for a reason and I was worried that his head wouldn’t be right. So we decided to go jumping.

“I was very pleased with that performance and he has booked his ticket for ‘across the water’. He’ll run in the Supreme Novices, along with Blackstairmountain.”

Not a certain traveller to the Festival is the classy 151-rated Won In The Dark, which recorded his first win since the 2008 Punchestown Festival in the Five Day Festival Hurdle.

Davy Russell gave the pint-sized six-year-old a confident ride, tracking the leaders throughout before making his move at the second last and staying on strongly to beat Jettymarc and Alpine Eagle readily.

Won In The Dark is trained for local owner Gerry Crehan by Sabrina Harty who explained: “He’s very lazy at home so we decided to use this race as a piece of work. He’s had a problem with allergies since Christmas but seems to be coming back to himself. He pulled hard in the Fighting Fifth, but not in the Irish Champion Hurdle last time. He travelled much better today and was very full of himself, even when we were saddling him. There was a bit of a spark to him again.”

Plans for Won In The Dark are ground dependent, according to his trainer: “Gerry agrees that there’s no point in going for the Champion Hurdle if the ground is soft. So we might wait for Aintree and come back here for the Festival.”

Tom Taaffe stated: “That’s exactly what rated races are all about,” after seeing his Smoking Aces, which he trains for J P McManus, gain a short-head verdict over Boulavogue in a blanket finish to the Book The Punchestown Pavilion At The Festival Hurdle.

Running in snatches, the six-year-old needed all of Paddy Flood’s strength and persuasive powers to get home, prompting his trainer to comment: “I’m getting used to short-heads around here. He’s tough and hardy and showed a lot of guts. We have no great aspirations for him, hut he’ll definitely go over fences in the autumn.”

Although uneasy in the market, debutant Allee Garde was expected to complete a double for Willie Mullins in the bumper. But, having taken command early in the straight, he was collared close home by Munsaab, trained by James Motherway and ridden by Colin Motherway.

The trainer said: “He’s a nice prospect and has been doing things right at home but we were worried about the ground. His owner is not here and we have no definite plans. I suppose he might be given an entry for the Cheltenham Bumper. But he’s only four and I’m in no hurry with him.”

Cayo Leventado landed a massive morning gamble for the Gordon Elliott yard in the Festival Shopping Village Handicap Hurdle, eventually getting the better of Shorecliffe King and Pretty Happy.

As big as 20/1 with Boylesports in the morning, Cayo Levantado was strong on-track and was sent off 2/1 favourite before scoring in the colours of Barry Callaghan. Elliott said: “He’s a big, old-fashioned horse and he’s had a lot of problems. We’re training him out of a field now. He has come right in the last few weeks. He’ll run again in a two and a half mile handicap at Fairyhouse next week.”

The Mares Maiden Hurdle produced plenty of drama and a short-head win for the Dessie Hughes-trained Spare Shilling over joint-favourite Golden Sunbird, but only after the other joint favourite Liss Na Tintri crashed when challenging at the final flight.

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