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Monday 18 December 2017

Niall Cronin

In just 22 days' time that famous roar will go up around the Cotswolds to mark the beginning of the Cheltenham Festival.

And following the latest trials over the weekend, it is reasonable to assume that the majority of the 27 winners at next month's meeting have already raced for the last time before the Festival, although there may be one or two still to show their hand.

Despite being a dual Cheltenham Festival winner Champagne Fever went into the weekend with some question marks over his head and a reputation to confirm, but in the Red Mills Chase at Gowran Park he managed to show his class as he travelled smoothly throughout and held Texas Jack easily by four-and-a-half lengths.

expected

It was exactly what his trainer Willie Mullins would have wanted to see, and probably expected too see, and if the trainer knows which assignment Champagne Fever will get, in a bid for a third Festival win, he is certainly giving nothing away as both the Champion Chase and the Ryanair remain open to him.

His stable companion Ballycasey and stable jockey Ruby Walsh made the trip to Ascot, where there was a Grade One up for grabs in the Betfair Chase. Although Ptit Zig failed to get around, proving how difficult it is for novices to take on their more experienced rivals, Ballycasey was nowhere near taking advantage as Alan King's Balder Succes was a worthy winner, who may now be set for a trip to the Ryanair to take on Don Cossack and company. Ballycasey's place on the boat to Cheltenham, however, could now be in jeopardy.

After failing to land a blow behind odds-on Arkle favourite Un De Sceaux at Leopardstown last time, Enda Bolger's Gilgamboa was handed a seemingly much more straightforward task in the Flyingbolt Novice Chase at Navan yesterday but the 4/9 favourite had to settle for second place behind the outsider of the field, Rawnaq, who provided local trainer Matthew Smith with the biggest win of his two-year career in the training ranks.

effort

It was a surprisingly disappointing effort from the usually ultra-consistent Gilgamboa and his rider Mark Walsh reported to the stewards afterwards that his mount "never travelled".

While Gilgamboa's appearance now looks to hang in the balance, Very Wood made sure that he'd be back seeking a second consecutive win at the meeting as last year's Albert Bartlett winner capped a brilliant week for the just married Noel Meade by defying the odds to win the Ten Up Novice Chase.

Very Wood had pulled up on his last two starts but despite that, and his odds of 7/1, Gigginstown's retained rider Bryan Cooper stuck with Meade's charge over the better recent form of Thunder And Roses and it was a decision that was justified as Very Wood saw off Noble Emperor after the last fence.

Gigginstown enjoyed a treble with World Hurdle entry Dedigout winning the Boyne Hurdle and Corgyhill leading home Arkwrisht, who carries the same ownership.

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