FAVOURITE backers at Naas suffered a big reversal when 1/4 hotpot Champagne Fever trailed home a distant third behind impressive winner Rule The World in the featured Slaney Hurdle.
The Willie Mullins-trained market leader was expected to improve on his respectable second to Jezki in the Royal Bond, but Ruby Walsh was sending out distress signals a long way from home as last year's Cheltenham Bumper winner put in a laboured effort.
Not surprisingly, it was later reported that the favourite was suffering from a respiratory tract infection. However, this should in no way take from the performance of Rule The World, which looks another star in the making for Mouse Morris.
"He's a nice horse and we'll have to talk to the owners to see where we go – he's still a big raw horse," remarked Morris. "We'll take it handy with him."
Morris last took the Slaney Hurdle in 2008 with Venalmar which was subsequently beaten by Fiveforthree in what is now the Neptune Novices Hurdle and the Michael O'Leary-owned gelding is now rated a 12/1 shot for this year's contest.
Mullins and Walsh enjoyed better fortune in the EBF Novice Chase which produced a dramatic start as Beeverstown shied away as the tape went up and unshipped Robbie McNamara.
Riding favourite Marito, Walsh was content to follow Ballyadam Brook in the early stages before taking up the running going down the back straight.
Mount Benbulben and Paul Carberry tracked him into the straight and threw down a strong challenge after the last but Marito stuck to his task well and held on for a head victory. "He's in the (Irish) Arkle (January 27) – I don't know if that's too soon for him but we'll have a look at it," said Mullins.
In the opening maiden hurdle, the champion trainer and Walsh suffered an odds-on reverse when Upazo was turned over by the Jarlath Fahey-trained Jennies Jewel, which bounced back from a disappointing run at Limerick courtesy of a lovely waiting ride by Ian McCarthy.
Upazo looked in control coming down to the last, but McCarthy unleashed his mount with an impressive burst of pace which secured a two-length success.
In the mares' novice chase, the Noel Kelly-trained Charlie's Vic ensured that Our Girl Salley must wait another race for her maiden success over fences.
Derek Fox was another jockey to show patience as he bided his time on the 15/2 winner, before sending her to the front at the final fence and holding off the renewed challenge of Our Girl Salley.
Dermot Weld's Grecian Tiger was sent off the 8/15 favourite in the bumper but needed the line badly as Totally Dominant closed to a length.
"He just began to tie up and he'll appreciate better ground," explained Weld. "The four-year-old winners' bumper at Leopardstown is the logical plan and we'll see how he gets on there."