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Samain denied bumper ticket

Arguably Ireland's most impressive bumper winner of the season so far, the Willie Mullins-trained Samain was not among the 59 entries for the Champion Bumper at this month's Cheltenham Festival.

Mullins admitted after Samain's Naas win that his owners, Gigginstown House Stud, were not keen to send anything to the Champion Bumper and Michael O'Leary's Lovethehigherlaw is another notable absentee.

The champion owner is represented among the entries by Toostrong who is an unraced four-year-old with Willie Mullins.

Mullins has won six of the 18 runnings with 14 of the renewals being won by Irish trainers and of the 59 entered for this year, 18 are Irish trained.

As well as Toostrong, Mullins included Killarney winner Allure Of Illusion, Punchestown's New Year's Eve winner Ceol Rua, Navan victor Lord Gale and two Fairyhouse winners Tusa Eire and Vesper Bell.



Pick

Shark Hanlon's Star Neuville would look to be the pick of the Irish now for former amateur rider Barry Connell after his success in the Grade Two Leopardstown bumper, while Raise The Beat is unbeaten in his last two bumper stars for Colm Murphy.

Gillian Callaghan's point-to-point and Thurles bumper winner Mount Benbulben, the Eddie Hales-trained Dynamic Approach and Charles O'Brien's Double Double are the other Irish-trained horses to win bumpers this season, while last year's Land Rover Bumper winner Divine Rhapsody could represent Philip Rothwell for his first run of the season.

Meanwhile, Quevega will bid for a third success in the David Nicholson Mares Hurdle on the opening day, again going to Cheltenham without a run this season.

The classy mare was among 26 entries received yesterday for the opening day contest which attracted seven Irish mares.

Tommy Stack's unbeaten hurdler Magen's Star is a notable name among the 26, as is Prunella Dobbs' Our Girl Salley who is unbeaten in her last five.

The other Irish include the Charlie Swan duo of Lonesome Dove and Stephanie Kate, while Paddy Neville is looking forward to run Macville and Morning Supreme joins stable-mate Quevega in the list of initial entries.

Pat Rodford's Sparky May who has won her last four and L'Accordioniste seem the best of the home contingent for the Grade Two contest.

The ground at Cheltenham is currently soft, good to soft in places, according to clerk of the course Simon Claisse. Bookmakers make good to soft to be the official going a long odds-on favourite and Claisse said that the weather for the foreseeable future will be similar to the last few days.

"The going is officially soft, good to soft in places and a bit quicker on the cross-country course.

"Over the next week or so the forecast is pretty much the same as now -- frosts at night and relatively cold," Claisse revealed. "The Festival ground has not been raced on since last spring and the position of the hurdles are the same as they were last year."