Champagne to flow as Mullins looks to dominate

Up to 30,000 expected to attend three meetings around the country on St Stephen’s Day

Champagne Fever and Ruby Walsh will be looking to take the Grade One novice chase at Leopardstown on St Stephen’s Day. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho Champagne Fever and Ruby Walsh will be looking to take the Grade One novice chase at Leopardstown on St Stephen’s Day. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Champagne Fever and Ruby Walsh will be looking to take the Grade One novice chase at Leopardstown on St Stephen’s Day. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho Champagne Fever and Ruby Walsh will be looking to take the Grade One novice chase at Leopardstown on St Stephen’s Day. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Tue, Dec 24, 2013, 01:00

The St Stephen’s Day action is always the busiest day of Ireland’s racing year with up to 30,000 racegoers expected to attend three meetings around the country, and the vast majority of them aiming to keep Willie Mullins on their side, especially with Champagne Fever in the Grade One feature at Leopardstown.

Mullins’s record-breaking dominance of the Irish jumps scene is unprecedented and that dominance can be emphasised again during a Christmas period that could see the champion trainer plunder the majority of the €1.1 million in prizemoney on offer at Leopardstown alone.

Superstar names such as Hurricane Fly and Sir Des Champs are being readied for later in the week but the scale of the task Mullins’s rivals face on a daily basis is illustrated by Thursday’s action alone when he is scheduled to have 11 runners between Leopardstown and Limerick, with a plausible argument to be made that he can win with six of them.

Prices of just 25/1 about the all-conquering Mullins winning all seven Grade One races on offer at Leopardstown over the traditional four-day bonanza are floating around, a price that largely presumes Champagne Fever will do the business with a minimum of fuss in Thursday’s Racing Post Novice Chase. Even with five high class opponents lining up against the big grey, and some of them likely to be ideally suited by soft ground conditions, it’s hard to argue too much with the presumption.

Soft ground
Leopardstown’s chief executive Pat Keogh predicted yesterday that the prevailing soft ground is likely to last into St Stephen’s Day – when a 15,000-strong crowd is expected at the south Dublin track – but that shouldn’t hold any terrors for Champagne Fever.

Even amongst his star-studded stable companions, the dual-Cheltenham festival winner clearly holds a special place, with Mullins and jockey Ruby Walsh predicting he can be even better over fences.

That’s some statement to make about a Champion Bumper and Supreme Novice Hurdle winner but glowing reports of Champagne Fever’s schooling were confirmed on his debut over fences last month when scoring easily at Punchestown. That was over two and a half miles but the drop back in trip should be no trouble.

He is after all already a clear 3/1 favourite to complete a Cheltenham festival hat-trick in March in the Arkle and in terms of raw class he looks a stage removed even from this Christmas opposition. Defy Logic should relish the soft going but he couldn’t cope with Champagne Fever’s stable companion Felix Yonger last time, and that one is playing second-fiddle on Thursday, going to Limerick for the Grade Two there instead of concentrating on the top-flight prize at Leopardstown.

Michael O’Leary’s Gigginstown Stud team have been making headlines for their multiple declaration policy in recent months and both Road To Riches and Trifolium are declared to run here.

The latter has also found Felix Yonger too much to cope with while both Road To Riches and Art Of Logistics looked to get found out in the Drinmore at the start of this month.

Interesting opponent
In many ways Ted Veale could be the most interesting of Champagne Fever’s opponents. A Cheltenham festival winner himself over hurdles, he finished ahead of his rival at last season’s Punchestown festival and ran well enough over Cheltenham’s fences last month.

Mullins is aiming for a hat-trick of wins in the €85,000 feature though, after Arvika Ligeonniere last year, and Blackstairmountain in 2011.

Both remain class acts but the long-term ambitions for Champagne Fever look to be in a different league again, a comment that can also apply to him and his St Stephens’ Day opponents.