Champagne Fever sparks Thurles celebrations for Mullins and Walsh
Willie Mullins is not planning to rush Champagne Fever back to the top table following his triumphant return to action
Willie Mullins is not planning to rush Champagne Fever back to the top table following his triumphant return to action at Thurles.
Having been sidelined since April of last year, the Boomerang Animal Bedding And Boomerang Horse & Country Store Chase presented the dual Cheltenham Festival hero with the perfect opportunity to make his eagerly-awaited comeback and he was sent off an 11-8 chance in the hands of Ruby Walsh.
After travelling and jumping with his trademark zest throughout the two-and-three-quarter-mile contest, Champagne Fever moved to the lead in the straight and was first pressed by Roi Des Francs before Jim Culloty's 2014 Gold Cup hero Lord Windermere (25-1), also off the track for the best part of 600 days, appeared on the scene.
The long-absent pair settled down to fight it out after the final fence and Champagne Fever had just enough in reserve to take the Listed prize by a head.
Boylesports make the Mullins inmate a 25-1 shot for both the Queen Mother Champion Chase and the Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham next March, with Lord Windermere 20-1 from 33-1 for the Welsh Grand National with the same firm following his hugely encouraging effort.
Mullins said: "He ran a good race for his first run back, which he always does.
"I'll probably look for a similar race for him next over two and a half (miles).
"I think the John Durkan might come too soon and I might also look for something easier than that.
"We'll see how he comes out of this but he might go for a Grade Two or Grade Three.
"I don't know if I can see him being competitive at Grade One level again, but we'll see."
Champagne Fever was the star turn in a treble on the afternoon for the champion trainer and jockey.
Bellow Mome (2-1) was a comfortable winner of the Jim Murphy Contract Fence Builder Beginners Chase before exciting mare Augusta Kate made a successful start to her jumping career in the Sportsmens Mares Maiden Hurdle.
Owned by a syndicate that includes leading owner Graham Wylie, former England international footballer Alan Shearer, golfer Lee Westwood and TV personalities Ant McPartlin and Declan Donnelly, Augusta Kate won three of her five starts in bumper company last season and performed well in defeat at Cheltenham and Aintree.
Despite having to concede weight all round over the best part of three miles, the five-year-old was the 2-9 favourite for her jumping debut and those who took the prohibitive odds were rewarded with an impressive three-length success.
"Bellow Mome jumped very well. We'll have to look for a winners' of one or a step up in grade to a graded race, so we'll see what's on the calendar before or during Christmas," said Mullins.
"Augusta Kate jumped nicely and I didn't think a trip would be any problem to her, even though I don't like starting them off at that trip. It was a mares' maiden so we said we'd take our chance.
"We'll step her up nicely in class around Christmas time - a nice novice race.
"Ruby said she was a bit keen early on and was just trying to settle her but he was delighted with her."
Billy's Hope (7-2) toughed out victory in the INH Stallion Owners EBF Rated Novice Hurdle for trainer Jessica Harrington and jockey Robbie Power.
Harrington said: " We'll find something else for her - I was going to go over fences with her as I was disappointed the last day but three miles over hurdles is probably what she has been crying out for.
"She may now wait until Christmas but heavy, heavy ground isn't her scene."
Tom and David Mullins combined to land the Fogarty Concrete Novice Handicap Hurdle with 7-1 shot Catcheragain.
The winning trainer said: " The nicer ground definitely helped and she's in at Gowran on Saturday and here again next week so I'll have a look at both and see where we go.
"At least she's now a winner, by Flemensfirth, and is related to Champion Hurdle winner Make A Stand."
The Horse & Jockey Handicap Hurdle went to Neddyvaughan (11-2), before Woods Well (3-1 joint-favourite) landed the concluding Richard Brennan Fencing Services Flat Race.
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Source: At The Races