THE hurdling debut of Willie Mullins' dual Champion Bumper winner Champagne Fever lends an unexpected touch of class to tomorrow's Cork programme.
Having considered going straight over fences with the strong-galloping grey, the champion trainer finally sided with a foray over the smaller obstacles for the time being. In the chosen maiden hurdle at the Mallow venue tomorrow, his five-year-old will need to overcome 21 rivals as well as the nine flights of hurdles if he is to prevail.
Given the sheer quality that he exuded in making most of the running to plunder championship events at Cheltenham and Punchestown last term, that should be no trouble to Paul Townend's mount. Indeed, as a 'point' winner, he has already jumped competitively, and none of his rivals have displayed anything like his talent.
In the conditions hurdle, Mullins and Townend team up with Blackstairmountain. Although the top-rated of the eight runners is well in at the weights, he may prove vulnerable to the more progressive Staying Article.
Edward O'Grady's seven-year-old has had training problems, but his third under top-weight in the Boylesports.com Hurdle at Leopardstown in January was no mean feat for a horse having just its fourth run over flights. On his only outing since then, Staying Article was a fine third to Go Native on the Flat at Galway three weeks ago, so he should strip plenty fit under Paddy Mangan now.
In the €27,500 handicap hurdle, Benny's Fagartha can build on its second to Tarla at Punchestown for Matthieu Palussiere and Ben Dalton, with Robert Tyner taken to secure a local brace in the last two races. Instant Impacked has claims of a fourth win of the year in the two-mile handicap chase, while way Up IN the air is chosen in the bumper
Mullins, meanwhile, was on the mark at Cheltenham yesterday when he teamed up with son Patrick to claim the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase for the second year running with Uncle Junior which beat Balthazar King by 11 lengths.
Ruby Walsh was in double-winning form for Paul Nicholls – first claiming the two-mile handicap chase with Shooters Wood before giving Dodging Bulletts a masterful front-running ride to edge out River Maigue in the novice hurdle. "I think he'll be better in a better race," said Nicholls. "So I might just stick him in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton, before the good races at Cheltenham and Aintree."
However, the star of the day was David Pipe's Dynaste, which repeated the feat of fellow grey and stablemate Grands Crus by capturing the opening Steel Plate And Sections Novices' Chase in the hands of Tom Scudamore. Fingal Bay started favourite but Dynaste had too much pace for the market leader after a solid round of jumping.