03/13/2004 1:00AM

'Rooster' vs. Rigmarole again

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Rooster Booster seeks a second consecutive triumph in the 2 1/16-mile, Grade 1 Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham on Tuesday, opening day of the three-day National Hunt Festival.

Trained by Peter Hobbs, the 10-year-old Rooster Booster won last year's race by 11 lengths from Westender, who tries him again. Rooster Booster's most serious challenger, however, is the Paul Nicholls-trained Rigmarole, who beat the defending champ by five lengths in the Grade 2 Bula Hurdle over the Champion course and distance on Dec. 13. Rigmarole has since won the Grade 2 Kingwell Hurdle by 3 1/2 lengths from Intersky Falcon, the Jonjo O'Neill trainee who beat Rooster Booster by 2 1/2 lengths in the Grade 1 Christmas Hurdle on Boxing Day. While Rooster Booster bounced back with a seven-length score in the Grade 2 Champion Hurdle Trial at Haydock on Jan. 10, Rigmarole, with three consecutive victories, two of them at Cheltenham, is the choice to capture the $314,000 first prize.

Of the others, Geos, who beat Rooster Booster by a nose when in receipt of 19 pounds in the Grade 3 Tote Gold Trophy Handicap at Newbury on Feb. 21, faces a much tougher task at equal weights. Foreman, an improving 6-year-old who is owned by J.P. McManus and is trained and will be ridden by Thierry Doumen, is a threat off his victory in the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown on Jan. 25.