Champagne Fever to make amends for being touched off in Cheltenham’s Arkle Trophy
Trainer Willie Mullins keeps him at two miles and even though Balder Success and Trifolium are proven Grade One winners, they look to be still up against it
Beat That (Barry Geraghty, left) lives up to his name as he holds off the challenge of Don Poli in the Irish Daily Mirror Novice Hurdle at Punchestown yesterday. Photograph: Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images
Not many novices win just one of their three starts over fences and still figure in ante-post lists as a 10/1 second favourite for next year’s Cheltenham Gold Cup but Champagne Fever can prove again today he’s an exceptional case.
In reputation-terms there isn’t a more exciting young chaser around despite the grey coming into the €110,000 Ryanair Novice Chase on the back of two defeats. Champagne Fever looked all over the Arkle winner at Cheltenham until mugged on the line by the 20/1 outsider Western Warhorse, a result that left Ruby Walsh perplexed since everything, bar the actual result, looked to have gone perfectly.
Prior to that Champagne Fever was only third at Leopardstown over Christmas so his only winning form this season has actually come here at Punchestown on his debut over two and a half miles.
Maybe there is significance in him winning over the longer distance and long-term, the Willie Mullins team are convinced he is a stayer. But the champion trainer keeps him at two miles for today and even though Balder Success and Trifolium are proven Grade One winners, they look to be still up against it.
Balder Success scored at Aintree and trainer Alan King reported yesterday: “We reaped the rewards for giving Cheltenham a miss when Balder Succes delivered impressively at Aintree. But I’ve the utmost respect for Champagne Fever.”
The likely favourite can throw in the odd clunker in a season. He was after all a beaten favourite at last year’s festival, albeit behind a certain Jezki. But Champagne Fever had run five times before that.
This time he comes here on the back of just three starts. And while some reputations can be hollow, Champagne Fever’s sits on a champion bumper campaign in 2012 and a 2013 Supreme defeat of My Tent Or Yours which continues to make his chasing potential very exciting indeed.
With Quevega as the day’s headline act, Way Up In The Air could be an appropriate winner of the two-mile handicap chase. The sole mare in the field is having just her fourth start over fences but won easily at Thurles in February and with just 10st 2lb on her back, the giant 17.2hh novice will almost feel like she’s running loose.
Way Up In The Air’s jumping may have to be taken on trust but she gets a lot of weight from the Grand Annual runner-up Ned Buntline and the Aintree Grade Three winner Parsnip Pete.
Willie Mullins has the three top-rated in the mares novice hurdle and although Ruby Walsh has picked Urticaire, it’s worth remembering how Vicky De L’Oasis hosed up at Galway earlier this season on a quick surface.
Tell Us More was bought for over €350,000 by Gigginstown after a point-to-point win and the son of Scorpion can follow-up his easy Gowran Park success in the bumper.