Willie Mullins will consider his options with dual Cheltenham Festival winner Champagne Fever after the Cheltenham Gold Cup hopeful made a winning start to his season in a hotly contested re newal of the Clonmel Oil Chase yesterday afternoon.
Bookmakers Boylesports left Champagne Fever unchanged at 8/1 and 12/1 respectively for the King George and Gold Cup while Paddy Power opted to cut him to 8/1 from 10/1 for the King George after the grey's six-length victory over Alderwood as veteran Sizing Europe disappointed on what was described as extremely testing conditions.
Champagne Fever was ridden by Paul Townend, who deputised for the suspended Ruby Walsh, and the eventual winner raced quite keenly throughout but pleased the rider who is now three from three on the nine-time winner.
"He can only improve from that," suggested Townend. "It was a nice place to introduce him for this year and he just ran a bit fresh but when I let him on he jumped like a buck and did it nicely.
"We were happy to take a lead if they were going to go a proper gallop but he was fresh and well in himself and he jumped much better when I let him on a bit."
Mullins admitted that it was a late decision to give him an entry in the race and he'll now mull over whether to take on stable companion Boston Bob in the John Durkan at Punchestown next month or instead go straight for the King George.
Reflecting on the race, Mullins said: "I was delighted with what he did considering how hard he pulled for the first half of the race. I didn't think he could pull like that and still beat those horses who are all 150 plus rated.
"We are looking at the Durkan at Punchestown. However I think Boston Bob is probably going to go there and whether they need to take each other on, I am not so sure.
"Maybe he (Champagne Fever) is just better at being a little fresher and maybe no run between now and the King George might be better for him."
As for long-term plans, the champion trainer added: "We are looking at the long-distance races and I don't know what rating he will get for winning that but he will have to improve and the ultimate aim would be a Gold Cup but he has to prove he is a Gold Cup horse and he hasn't done that yet.
Townend hoped that he would continue to improve into a Gold Cup contender.
"I think with it being his first run of the year that brought about a lot of his keenness and all of his runs up to this have seen him as a stayer so if he's going to get it (three miles) he'll get it in the King George," he said.
"There's no reason to think he can't (be a Gold Cup horse). He has won at Cheltenham a couple of times and he is a class horse and he's tough and he seems to have all the attributes."
Mullins and Townend enjoyed a double on the card as the above average Killultagh Vic made a winning start over hurdles in a facile manner.
The two-time bumper winner was only beaten five-lengths by Silver Concorde in the Champion Bumper at Cheltenham and he couldn't have been any more impressive when cruising to a four and a half length victory over Virtuosa Rouge.
There was an upset in the TA Morris Memorial Mares Chase as neither of the strongly fancied English challengers got involved with Jennies Jewel running out a good winner for Jarlath Fahey and Ian McCarthy.
The seven-year-old had followed home classy types such as Annie Power, Rule The World, Glens Melody and Rebel Fitz over hurdles and on just her second start over fences she hardly put a foot wrong to claim the Grade Three contest.