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Racing: Illustrious company awaits Rooster

There remains an element of romanticism in National Hunt racing and a component is the grey vote, an appreciation of any successful silver horse. In recent times, this congregation has included the great Desert Orchid, Teeton Mill and One Man, while the banner is currently flourished by the Champion Hurdle victor, Rooster Booster.

It is also a badge to Philip Hobbs's gelding that he has proved his skill in relative old age. Nothing gains as much admiration as a creaking hero.

Confirmation came yesterday that the near 10-year-old would be embarking on yet another season at his favourite Prestbury Park premises on Saturday week in the Bula Hurdle. It had been mooted that Rooster Booster would begin his tour in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle last month, but events conspired against.

"The Bula Hurdle is the plan for Rooster Booster," Hobbs said yesterday. "The ground was a bit too quick at Newcastle and also it was going to cause us jockey problems as we knew Richard [Johnson] was going to be at Newbury. It didn't really suit the owner [Terry Warner] as well come to that so it was easier to wait for Cheltenham," Hobbs continued.

Rooster Booster embarked last year on a handicap trail. That avenue is now blocked off and selecting his programme is not a complex problem. "Rooster Booster is now rated 170 and there just aren't the options for him that there were last year - that's the only difference," Hobbs added. "Everything is possible - he improved enormously last year so we hope that he might have done again. But obviously he is getting older."

Rooster Booster got the better of Landing Light in the Bula last year and would join an illustrious band of hurdlers if he can repeat the feat - Comedy Of Errors (1973 and 1974), Birds Nest (1977, 1978 and 1980), Large Action (1994 and 1996) and Relkeel (1997, 1998 and 1999) being the only multiple winners of the race.

Shape was yesterday given to another big race, one tomorrow, when it was announced that Jonjo O'Neill's Keen Leader would make his seasonal reappearance in the Rehearsal Chase at Chepstow.

The well-regarded seven-year-old also holds an entry in the John Durkan Memorial Chase at Punchestown the following day, but a spokeswoman for Jackdaws Castle confirmed the gelding will head to Wales instead.

One of last season's top novices when he won three of his four completed starts, Keen Leader has not been seen since finishing a disappointing fifth in the Royal & SunAlliance Chase at Cheltenham in March.

The decision to go to Chepstow will have the billstickers in action. Keen Leader's presence sets up a fascinating clash of the generations with the 13-year-old veteran See More Business, who seeks a fourth victory in the race.

The John Durkan can just about tolerate the loss of Keen Leader, as there are plenty of other equine celebrities to go around. Tiutchev is one and he will be partnered by a human monolith of the sport in Tony McCoy, who regains the seat on the 10-year-old.

Rodi Greene rode Martin Pipe's gelding on his reappearance over hurdles at Chepstow last month, but McCoy partnered him to his only success last season at Ascot and is hopeful of a big run.

"Two miles to two-and-a-half miles on a right-handed track really suits Tiutchev and he has been one of the top-rated chasers in this country for a number of years," the jockey said. "Beef Or Salmon is obviously a classy rival, but we go there hopeful of a big run."

This will be McCoy's first Durkan mount and Tiutchev will be the first British-trained runner in the race since John Edwards sent over Monsieur Le Cure to finished third to Merry Gale nine years ago.

It is a race that JP McManus has never won - his First Gold was third to Native Upmanship and Rince Ri 12 months ago - but he will be two-handed this time. Frank Berry, McManus's racing manager, said: "The intention is to run Knife Edge as well as Le Coudray."

Willie Mullins, successful with Florida Pearl two years ago, said that neither Adamant Approach nor Killultagh Storm were certain to run, while his brother Tony, who rode Dawn Run to victory in 1985, has ruled out Hennessy Gold Cup sixth Barrow Drive.

* Royal Rosa, winner of a Grade One bumper at Punchestown, looks set to have his first run for his new connections at Sedgefield on Tuesday. The four-year-old was purchased for a record 340,000 guineas at the Doncaster Sales by big-spender Graham Wylie and is now in training with Howard Johnson. "I'd say if the ground is on the soft side I'll run him at Sedgefield," the County Durham-based trainer said.


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