With most eyes focused on Ascot and the return of Sprinter Sacre, many may have missed the informative action taking place in Ireland over the past few days.
Champagne Fever and Don Cossack went head to head at Thurles last Thursday in the Kinloch Brae Chase. A great leap two from home helped the former gain a small advantage but approaching the last the pair were again side by side. Cossack met the fence on a perfect stride, whilst Ruby’s mount fiddled it and came down.
It’s impossible to say who would have won with Champagne Fever’s love of a battle, though Gordon Elliott’s strapping chaser was building up a fair head of steam. As with most of the Mullins yard festival targets remain a mystery. His star was dropping back in trip after the King George adventure where he appeared to run out of gas late on. Ruby Walsh has stated that his fella could line up in either the Ryanair or the Champion Chase and that his trainer would make those decisions. The latter could be the more attractive proposition with doubts still remaining over the top two in the market.
Don Cossack on the other hand looks sure to contest the Ryanair and he’s done nothing but impress so far this winter. If he’s near enough turning for home you’d feel the infamous hill would hold no fears for this strong galloping powerhouse.
The Mullins-Ricci combo had better look with Vautour on Sunday, when he got his season back on track at Leopardstown in the Killiney Novice Chase. It was sad to see only three runners in the race, but Real Steel was a decent opponent and Mullins’ horse had matters under control well before his opponent came down at the last.
Vautour jumped impeccably, shortening up when necessary and standing off when asked. He galloped powerfully to the line, again leaving connections scratching their heads over potential targets. Ruby said after the race: "I've always thought he was a stayer and I've always ridden him as one. We made it in the Supreme and we made it here today, I don't doubt he would get further.” He’s sure to take all the beating in whichever race he contests, though an encounter with Ptit Zig in the JLT is certainly a mouth-watering prospect.
Katie T stormed to victory in the Boylesports Hurdle at Leopardstown, though it was Ted Veale who caught the eye sprouting wings late on in third. There’s every chance that he could turn up at Cheltenham in the Grand Annual Chase. At Christmas he dead-heated with Vautour over fences and he’s likely to arrive at The Festival off a mark in the low 140’s. He won the County Hurdle in 2013 and Festival form is often an advantage.
On Saturday at Naas Wounded Warrior put up a terrific performance in beating the more fancied Gigginstown owned Rule The World. Highly thought of by his trainer Noel Meade, he is a son of Shantou, often the sire of strong stayers. He doesn’t lack a touch of class and the four miler at Cheltenham looks tailor-made.
Rule The World looked a none-stayer and may need to drop back in trip to be seen at his best. Lots Of Memories was third home and should not be discounted from the spring festivals. He needs better ground and could be an interesting each-way proposition in a big-race on a decent surface.
This coming Sunday Leopardstown again play host to a terrific day’s action with the highlight being the clash between Hurricane Fly and Jezki in the Irish Champion Hurdle. The Fly remains unbeaten at the track and another Grade 1 win would surely bring scenes of euphoria rarely seen outside of Prestbury Park.