'Champagne' flows on comeback as Mullins and Ruby toast treble
Willie Mullins is not planning to rush Champagne Fever back to the top table after his triumphant return to action at Thurles.
Having been sidelined since April 2015, the Boomerang Horse & Country Store Chase presented the dual Cheltenham Festival hero with the ideal opportunity to make his eagerly-awaited comeback and he was sent off an 11/8 chance in the hands of Ruby Walsh.
After travelling and jumping with his trademark zest in the two-and-three-quarter-mile contest, Champagne Fever moved to the lead in the straight before Jim Culloty's 2014 Gold Cup hero Lord Windermere (25/1), also off the track for the best part of 600 days, threw down a challenge.
The long-absent pair settled down to fight it out after the last and Champagne Fever had enough in reserve to take the Listed prize by a head. "He ran a good race for his first run back, which he always does," said Mullins. "I'll probably look for a similar race for him next over two-and-a-half (miles). I think the John Durkan might come too soon and I might look for something easier than that."
Champagne Fever was the star turn in a treble for the champion trainer and jockey.
Bellow Mome (2/1) was an easy winner of the beginners' chase before the exciting Augusta Kate made a bright start to her jumping career in the mares maiden hurdle.
Owned by a syndicate that includes Graham Wylie, Alan Shearer, golfer Lee Westwood and TV personalities Ant and Dec, Augusta Kate jumped well and lived up to her to 2/9 billing with a smooth three-length success.