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Friday 9 December 2016

Punchestown 2015: Watch out for Champagne Fever

Champagne Fever
Champagne Fever

On Saturday night a boxing match between Floyd Mayweather Jr and Manny Pacquiao is being billed as ‘The Fight Of The Century’ but for the next five days the heavyweights of jump racing will fight it out themselves on the biggest stage of Irish racing.

In a little pocket of County Kildare, around 110,000 people are expected to gather for the week to watch the season ending and, for some, the season defining Irish National Hunt Festival, which has 12 Grade One races down for decision. The first three of those take place tomorrow afternoon.

Such is the power of the Willie Mullins team set for Punchestown this week that the champion trainer had looked prepared to break one of his own fairly long-standing rules by running a novice against open horses but following yesterday’s declarations for the BoyleSports Champion Chase, there was no Vautour or Un De Sceaux in the 10-runner field.

Instead, the apparent first string from Closutton for tomorrow’s race will be the dual Cheltenham winner Champagne Fever,  who was unfortunatley ruled out of the Champion Chase at Cheltenham due to a freak incident with a stable companion on the boat over.

first attempt

Champagne Fever, a winner of the Champion Bumper and the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham as well as just being touched off in the Arkle last year, has been campaigned over longer trips this season and was last seen earlier this month when failing to land a blow in the Melling Chase over 2m4f behind Don Cossack.

This will be the eight-year-old’s first attempt over the minimum trip this season and faith is restored in him that he can end what has been a frustrating season on winning ways.

Last year’s winner, Sizing Europe, the Grade One seeking Hidden Cyclone and the highly rated Mallowney will all pose formidable opposition and supporters of Hidden Cyclone will feel that the 10-year-old will never have a better chance of breaking his duck in Grade One company.

While the inclusion of a novice would have added real intrigue to the race, it’s not short on sub-plots, with Flemenstar also lining up for Tony Martin who will be represented by Savello in the race as well. So there are cases to be made for many but Champagne Fever is the tentative pick.

Mullins-trained odds-on favourites are going to be a fairly common trend this week and while the first is likely to be Douvan in the Herald Champion Novice Hurdle, Don Poli is another Grade One performer who is going to be a very skimpy price, although justifiably so.

Don Poli is already being billed a major challenger to Coneygree in next seasons Gold Cup and they could provide us with some memorable races in the future. But for now he looks to end his novice season on a high.

A notoriously lazy individual who hits a flat spot in his races, Don Poli cruised up the hill at Cheltenham to take the RSA Chase and if he is anything near his form of that day, he’ll be impossible to beat tomorrow.

If there is to be any chink in his armour tomorrow there are four who will be ready to scrap it out and more than warrant their place in the line-up.

Carrying the same Gigginstown colours as Don Poli will be his stable companion Valseur Lido and Noel Meade's Wounded Warrior, while Meade also runs Apache Stronghold and Cheltenham winner Irish Cavalier completes the field for Rebecca Curtis.

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