Champagne to flow at Naas
Champagne Fever will bid to regain the winning thread when he tackles five rivals in the Grade Two Slaney Novice Hurdle under Ruby Walsh at Naas.
Last season's dual Champion Bumper hero lost little in defeat when outpointed only by Jezki in the two-mile Royal Bond at Fairyhouse, and Willie Mullins has made what seems a very sensible decision to try the long-striding grey over half a mile further now.
Apart from Jezki franking the Fairyhouse race in style at Leopardstown, Champagne Fever's stablemate Zuzka, which finished third, also showed the December Grade One in a positive light by sluicing up at the Christmas Festival.
In the context of today's €37,500 race, that is exquisite form, so Walsh should score a first win on the former point-to-point victor here.
Of Champagne Fever's rivals, Mouse Morris' Rule The World is a likeable sort, but Minsk looks a more potent threat to him. Dessie Hughes' former Flat racer won his maiden over this trip, and looked one-paced in fourth when dropped back to two miles for the Royal Bond.
The Barry Connell-owned five-year-old should improve for the return to two and a half miles, but he is unlikely to do so enough to reverse the form with the favourite.
Mullins and Walsh, who trails title-holder Davy Russell by six in the jump-jockeys' championship, might also take the opening two races at the Kildare venue.
In the maiden hurdle over two miles and three furlongs, Upazo gets the nod to atone for last month's Gowran Park defeat and account for Andy Oliver's runaway Downpatrick bumper winner Drumgooland.
Marito faces 10 fewer rivals than Upazo in the seven-runner novice chase over two miles, though the seven-year-old may have a tougher time.
Ballyadam Brook, Jenari and Beeverstown, successful at Limerick for Jim Culloty last week, are all proper horses, while Mount Benbulben is a high-class prospect with a serious jumping deficiency.
Marito is more of an unknown quantity, with just three runs to his name in this country. On his fencing bow at Thurles in November, he jumped cleanly before stretching 11 lengths clear of the easy St Stephen's Day scorer He'llberemembered.
Pineau De Re – a winner at Thurles on Thursday – finished fifth and Mazuri Cowboy, another Christmas winner, was further back, so that form is fairly solid.
Whether it will be enough to topple Mount Benbulben should Paul Carberry get Gordon Elliott's charge into a more fluent jumping rhythm is hard to say, but Marito certainly has the scope to keep progressing.
The day's nap vote goes to Our Girl Salley in the mares' beginners' chase. Second to Avondhu Lady (twice) and Tarla in her three fencing starts to date, Prunella Dobbs' runner faces no such formidable opponent under Barry Geraghty this time.