Champagne Fever ready to show his Cheltenham credentials

On peak form the versatile grey looks a standout in the Grade Two Red Mills Trial

Champagne Fever, ridden by Ruby Walsh, on the way to beating My Tent Or Yours ridden by Tony McCoy to win the William Hill Supreme Hurdle at Cheltenham in 2013. Photo: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Champagne Fever, ridden by Ruby Walsh, on the way to beating My Tent Or Yours ridden by Tony McCoy to win the William Hill Supreme Hurdle at Cheltenham in 2013. Photo: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

 

With just over three weeks to the start of Cheltenham 2015, this weekend’s trials are something of a last-chance saloon in terms of establishing firm festival credentials, even for a proven operator like Champagne Fever.

Despite being a two-time Cheltenham winner, the grey still possesses an enigmatic quality which can be gauged by a series of festival entries next month that run the distance gamut from the two-mile Champion Chase to the Gold Cup.

In between is the intermediate Ryanair option so even though Champagne Fever is a general 6-1 shot for the Queen Mother, Gowran Park’s Red Mills Trial at two and a half miles could yet still prove informative in determining where he winds up.

Brilliant at his best but undoubtedly capable of throwing in a sub-par performance too, a peak-form Champagne Fever would be a standout in this Grade Two, possibly leaving the real questions to revolve around his ultimate Cheltenham target.

Willie Mullins though famously likes to keep his options open, and is doing the same with Ballycasey who also has three Cheltenham entries. Rich Ricci’s other enigmatic grey tries to book his own ticket by taking an early cross-channel trip to Ascot’s Grade One Betfair Chase.

Ruby Walsh takes the ride on Ballycasey leaving Paul Townend on duty at Gowran for a series of Mullins rides that also include Abbyssial on his return to action in the Grade Two Trial Hurdle. However Kitten Rock’s appearance in this could kick-off a very significant weekend for Mark Walsh.

Early bookmaker reaction to Tony McCoy’s imminent retirement has been to make Barry Geraghty a heavy odds-on favourite to take over as McManus’s No 1 jockey, with the owner’s principal Irish-based rider relegated to outsider status.

Jockeys table

The Kildare man still tops this season’s jockeys table with 66 winners – nine clear of Townend – despite widespread presumption he would have been overhauled by now and has an enviable book of Mc Manus runners to look forward to this weekend.

Kitten Rock’s 25-1 Champion Hurdle odds could plummet with an impressive performance against Abbyssial and the first-time blinkered Tiger Roll while at Navan tomorrow Gilgamboa will be the focus of attention in the Flyingbolt Novice Chase.

This is one of a trio of Grade Two pots which don’t have a recent history of throwing up particularly significant late festival clues although Gilgamboa could change that.

Time showed he may have been tackling a ‘mission-impossible’ against Un De Sceaux last month but plenty fancied him to be much more competitive that day than he actually proved to be and having Walsh back on board this time may help him go to Cheltenham with yet another win under his belt.

The Ten Up Novice Chase looks trappy but Noble Emperor can deliver on some obvious potential while those holding tickets on the Cheltenham bumper favourite Au Quart De Tour will be keeping a close eye on the finale where Tuzo could confirm Fairyhouse placings with Cogryhill.

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