Cheltenham 2015: Pat Smullen will hold a vigil for plenty of rain
Pat Smullen has long been recognised as one of the finest flat jockeys we have seen in Ireland and just as the excitement heightens ahead of the flat season beginning later this month, Smullen will be at Cheltenham tomorrow trying to earn his place in history at the biggest jump racing meeting of them all.
The Offaly native has always held a strong interest in the National Hunt game and with his association as Dermot Weld's stable jockey, he will tomorrow have his fourth tilt at winning the Champion Bumper.
"Like everyone in Ireland, I grew up watching Cheltenham and all the big jump races and no matter what side of the game you are on and I'll look forward to watching all the racing from Cheltenham this week," Smullen said.
Weld will send Vigil over for what is a rare second crack at the Champion Bumper having finished fifth behind stable companion Silver Concorde 12-months ago.
"He seems in very good form," Smullen said of Vigil. "He's stronger and the experience of running in the race last year, the hustle and bustle, the atmosphere and the crowd will certainly all stand to him."
Comparing the horse to 12 months ago he said: "He was working very well going into the race last year and I felt there was very little between the two horses and this year his work has been right up there but the drying ground would be a negative and I hope they get some rain... I definitely want to see rain.
"When I walked the track last year, I couldn't believe it had dried out as much as it did but he still ran a very good race but I think his form proves that he is a better horse when there is a bit of a dig in the ground."
Smullen wouldn't be the first flat jockey to win the race, nor indeed ride in it as the likes of Kevin Manning, Johnny Murtagh, Richard Hughes and Jamie Spencer have all rode in the race with Spencer winning on Pizarro in 2002.
"Riding a winner at Cheltenham is just something I would love to do from a personal point of view and obviously I am limited to one opportunity a year!" he joked.
"Thankfully the boss has given me the opportunity and it would be nice to achieve it."
Smullen's boss Dermot Weld sends over a few with chances and Neptune Novices' Hurdle hope Windsor Park is a horse, the champion jockey has always held in high regard.
"I haven't rode the horses going to Cheltenham as much as I would during the summer but Windsor Park is a horse I have always liked personally and with all the experience he has now I'd be hoping he would run a nice race."
Smullen admitted that Un De Sceaux was the one horse he was looking forward to for the week in today's Arkle, while he admitted that the Gold Cup on Friday looked a wide open contest.
"I don't know what to make of it really. Silviniaco Conti is favourite but he didn't seem to get home last year and I know Paul Nicholls thinks he has him right now and if he does, he'll certainly go close but I'm not convinced.
"I think Djakadam could be the improving horse, while Lord Windermere seems to always come alive around there - he loves the place."
Looking ahead to the action starting back on the flat, Smullen added: "It's the time of year that you really are starting to build up and the mornings are very busy and you get really excited about the year ahead."
Forgotten Rules is one that Smullen will be keen to renew his partnership with and despite once earning quotes for the Cheltenham Festival, he was always confident that a career on the flat was ahead of him.
He laughed: "I think people were reading a bit too much between the lines.
"He was always a very smart horse and I always felt that he'd be more a horse for those Group races on the flat rather than the Cheltenham Festival!"