FAVOURITE Champagne Fever's performance in the Slaney Hurdle at Naas yesterday was too bad to be true, but the impressive display of the winner Rule The World was too good to be ignored.
Having finished second to Jezki in the Royal Bond Novice Hurdle at Fairyhouse, it had looked a fairly straightforward task for Champagne Fever to claim the Grade Two Slaney Hurdle. But from the fourth last home the distress signals were clear from Ruby Walsh, and the odds-on shot came home in his own time all of 40 lengths behind the winner.
A respiratory tract infection was found to be the cause of Champagne Fever's out-of-sorts display, but the winner Rule The World looks to have a bright future ahead of him for Mouse Morris and Gigginstown House Stud.
Michael O'Leary wasn't at the Kildare venue to see his latest promising graded winning novice hurdler, but Morris was quickly on the phone to the owner and no doubt plans will be discussed for future engagements this week.
"They took no prisoners out there," Morris said afterwards before engaging with racing commentator Tony O'Hehir about a conversation prior to the race. "Do you believe me now?" Morris quipped following a pre-race conversation about how good Rule The World is.
"Nothing surprises me in racing, he could have been last, as easy as he won, but he's a nice horse -- he's still a big, raw bugger," Morris added.
The regard in which the trainer holds the smashing six-year-old is clearly quite high and the Cheltenham Festival is now high on the agenda. After Boylesports made him a 14/1 shot for the Neptune Novice Hurdle, they were soon forced to cut him to 12/1 after sustained support in the space of an hour or so.
Rule The World is a half-brother to Morris' previous Slaney Hurdle winner Venalmar, who didn't run again until contesting the Neptune at Cheltenham, when he went down narrowly to finish second to Fiveforthree by just a neck. With Morris' super track record of laying one out for Cheltenham, it would be no surprise to see Rule The World have a similar absence between now and March.
Meanwhile, Naas lived up to its reputation as a punters' graveyard with only two winning favourites obliging and three odds-on shots being turned over.
As well as Champagne Fever, the Willie Mullins-trained Upazo went down at odds of 8/11 to the Jarlath Fahey-trained Jennies Jewel, while Our Girl Salley was a beaten 4/5 chance in the Mares' Beginners Chase as Charlie's Vic obliged for Noel Kelly.
Marito won a decent novice chase at odds of 4/6 for Mullins and Walsh as they just held off the improved Mount Benbulben and the Arkle or Dr PJ Moriarty at Leopardstown are two races now to be considered for the seven-year-old.
Naas is a great track for horses with big reputations in the bumper and most of the talk before the first four-year-old bumper of the year was about the Dermot Weld-trained Grecian Tiger, who justified his favourite tag under Robbie McNamara.
Grecian Tiger is now likely to go for the four-year-old winners' bumper at Leopardstown, according to the winning trainer.