Champagne can reignite festive fever in Red Mills
Champagne Fever will grace Gowran Park for a first time this afternoon as he strives to regain the winning thread in the Grade Two Red Mills Chase after a couple of frustrating outings.
Willie Mullins' dual Cheltenham Festival victor's target at next month's renewal of the March showpiece remains unknown, although it is likely to be either the Queen Mother Champion Chase or Ryanair Chase.
Chinned so inexplicably when going for his Cotswolds treble in last year's Arkle Trophy, Champagne Fever maintained his fine record over this two-and-a-half-mile trip on his seasonal reappearance at Clonmel.
He then failed to stay three miles in the King George VI Chase, but he was still in there pitching alongside Don Cossack when he crashed out at the final fence in last month's Kinloch Brae Chase at Thurles.
While it looked as though the Stowaway grey was in trouble at the time, he can be a hard horse to get by when he is on his game.
Regardless of whether or not he would have won, though, it was still a pretty solid display, and the main concern coming here is that Mullins has suggested in the past that he is a horse that doesn't relish being over-raced.
That said, this is a very winnable opportunity for Champagne Fever to secure a confidence-boosting success.
The peerless champion trainer clearly feels that there is value in getting another run into him, so he is fancied to collect for Paul Townend, who is unbeaten on him in three previous attempts.
With a rating of 162, Champagne Fever has upwards of five pounds in hand over his four rivals.
Sandra Hughes' Bright New Dawn comes here after another honest second behind Hidden Cyclone at Punchestown.
The step back up in trip may suit, though he gives the impression that he will be best suited by better ground than the testing conditions he is going to encounter today.
Texas Jack is the other one of note. Noel Meade's nine-year-old returns to his optimum distance after a fine effort to be fifth in the Hennessy Gold Cup.
If he reproduces that level of performance just six days later, he is going to be a serious player for Paul Carberry, but Don Cossack ended up beating him 44 lengths after Champagne Fever exited at Thurles.
While Texas Jack is hard to predict, then, he is certainly no forlorn hope.
Mullins is also responsible for this corner's nap vote in the shape of his bumper regular Kate Appleby Shoes.
The Flemensfirth mare might not strike as obviously reliable, and the manner in which she flashed home to fill the runner-up berth for a third time in four starts at Fairyhouse last month certainly indicated that she might be a little temperamental.
Nonetheless, she has an engine as well, and if Patrick Mullins can find the key to her, today's finale looks very winnable.
In the Shantou at Burgage Stud Maiden Hurdle, Mullins and Townend could have a big say with the French hurdle winner Whiteout.
However, a bit of experience counts for a lot in the juveniles' rank, and Dermot Weld's Zafayan has that, with three placings to show for three attempts over flights. Second to Hostile Fire at Fairyhouse last time, the son of Acclamation is a little one-paced, but his stamina will be an asset today and this isn't an especially good heat.
His rider Davy Russell might also take the beginners' chase aboard Charles Byrnes' Lord Adare.
The Andrew Lee-trained narrow Thurles runner-up Toubaloo will keep all of these honest, but, as a bumper and hurdle winner, Lord Adare's quality should see him through.
A faller four-out when travelling well on his fencing bow at Fairyhouse in November, the Moscow Society gelding will surely have learned from that incident.
In the handicaps, JP McManus' veteran Like Your Style and Gigginstown Stud's Horendus Hulabaloo appeal most.
Famously, Eddie Harty's Like Your Style was the horse that made way for Carlingford Lough's Galway Plate coup two years ago.
He struggled over an extended trip at Punchestown last time, but he reverts to a more suitable two-and-a-half-mile journey in the handicap chase here, having dropped to a pound lower mark than he last won off back in 2012.
Horendus Hulabaloo has so far failed to fulfil his potential, but Mouse Morris' Bryan Cooper-ridden charge is a consistent sort that will enjoy a proper test in the handicap hurdle.