REIGNING Ascot Gold Cup champ Rite Of Passage puts his unbeaten flat record on the line in tomorrow’s Saval Beg Stakes at Leopardstown.
Twice placed at Cheltenham when racing under the national hunt code, the Dermot Weld-trained gelding has not been seen since winning the Group `1 contest at Ascot last June but jockey Pat Smullen is looking forward to partnering the seven-year-old, who is being prepared for a Gold Cup defence.
“I sat on him the other day and he’s very well and in good form,” said Smullen.
“It’s his first start in almost a year so while I’d expect him to run well, he will improve for it.
“Fame And Glory is a very, very good horse and has had a run this year, so he’s probably going to be more ready for this race than our horse.
“This is a stepping stone to the Gold Cup for us, but I couldn’t be more pleased with him.
“This is the right race to start our lad off in and this has been the plan all year. “The Saval Beg is a great race and the boss has a very good record in it. It’s a race that fits perfectly into a staying horse’s programme.”
Weld and Smullen have enjoyed plenty of previous success in the race, with horses such as Melbourne Cup winners Vintage Crop and Media Puzzle, and four-time Irish Leger winner Vinnie Roe.
“Rite Of Passage is a very good horse. Vinnie Roe would have been a pacier horse than him, as would Media Puzzle, but Rite Of Passage comes into his own when he’s going over a longer distance,” Smullen continued.
“There’s no doubt he’s filled into his frame over the winter.
“He looks magnificent and he couldn’t be in better order at the moment.”
2009 Irish Derby winner Fame And Glory comes here off the back of a successful seasonal return.
Aidan O’Brien’s colt was workmanlike in gaining a narrow victory over Nebula Storm, who re-opposes, but, as was the case in previous seasons, he can be expected to show much improved form with that run under his belt.
He won four times at Group level last term, including victories in the Tattersalls Gold Cup at the Curragh and the Coronation Cup at Epsom, but this will be the first time he’s tackled a trip this far.
On official figures he has a bit to spare over Rite Of Passage and he is odds-on to return victorious.
O’Brien has won the race just once courtesy of Yeats, who went on to make history by winning the Ascot Gold Cup four times.
If landing the odds tomorrow afternoon, Fame And Glory is likely to head to Ascot to take the first step towards emulating his former stable-companion.
Picture: Fame and Glory: can stake his Ascot Gold Cup claim by beating the reigning champ in tomorrow’s Saval Beg stakes.
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