Fever pitch as Champagne flows in Gowran
Champagne Fever got back on track with a smooth victory in the Red Mills Chase at Gowran.
Willie Mullins' talented grey made amends for a fall at the final fence on his previous start when easily disposing of the opposition in the Grade Two contest to book his ticket to Cheltenham for the fourth year running.
Paul Townend had the 8-15 favourite close to the pace set first by Texas Jack and Bright New Dawn, before setting sail for home before the sixth-last fence.
Champagne Fever had things pretty much his own way from there as he coasted to victory from Texas Jack, who battled back for second place.
Mullins said: "That's a nice confidence builder. It's a nice prize to win at our local track, it's a very good prize on our doorstep.
"That ground is not really suitable for him, it's quite tacky but he did what he was supposed to do.
"He jumped brilliantly and just fiddled the last but that was just Paul being careful as he had the race won. I said to Paul beforehand don't make it if you can.
"I'm just happy to be going to Cheltenham on a positive note, and I'd imagine he will either run in the Ryanair or the Queen Mother."
RaceBets cut Champagne Fever to 9-2 (from 11-2) for the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase and 7-1 (from 9-1) for the Ryanair.
Kitten Rock justified the odds in the Red Mills Trial Hurdle after his task was made easier by the fall of market rival Abbyssial at the second-last.
There was little to choose between the pair at that point but the exit of the Mullins' representative left the Edward O'Grady-trained 4-7 favourite to come home unchallenged.
The Gordon Elliott-trained Thunder Zone came through to claim second place ahead of his stablemate Tiger Roll.
Kitten Rock remained unchanged at 25-1 with Paddy Power for the Stan James Champion Hurdle.
O'Grady said: "He was very relaxed today and never turned a hair beforehand, but Mark said he came alive at the second-last and he was delighted.
"I'll have to chat with JP (McManus, owner) and Frank (Berry, racing manager) to see what they want to do. The plan is to have one more run this season, and it will either be the Champion Hurdle or the Ballybin Hurdle (Grade Two) at Fairyhouse on Easter Monday.
"They usually have some ease in the ground on the first day at Cheltenham. He did a bit of work on good ground the other day before the rain came and I was thrilled with him, although I wouldn't say he'd want fast ground.
"He's gone through the gears this season winning a Listed, Grade Three and now a Grade Two, so it's logical to keep going.
"I look at him as a chaser for next season."