The dashing grey eight-year-old, Champagne Fever, is trained by Willie Mullins and heads for the Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham on Wednesday 11 March.
He is looked after by Diarmuid Keeley (pictured), 24, who has been working for the Irish Champion trainer for six years and has been to Cheltenham every year except for one when he was grounded by a broken leg. We find out from Diarmuid and his trainer why Champagne Fever is a key Cheltenham contender.
1. His personality
“He’s got plenty of character: he could either fall asleep on your shoulder or take a chunk out of you,” says Diarmuid.
2. He’s got Cheltenham form
“His two-mile record counts for itself and if you look at his run in the Arkle at Cheltenham last year [when he finished just a head behind Western Warhorse], it’s good enough to be bang in there this year. He loves Cheltenham,” says Diarmuid.
3. He’s in great shape
“He’s filled in to himself this year — he was almost a skeleton last year and we probably could have found an easier race but he deserved to be there,” says Diarmuid.
4. He’s in the right frame of mind
“I love the fact that we rode him differently [in his last race at Gowran Park] and he responded fantastic and loved it. That’ll put him in a good frame of mind going back to Cheltenham. He’s been out over the stable door since, loving it,” says Willie.
5. He’s got more stamina than you’d think
“[His sire] Stowaway has never had a Grade One winner over three miles so that makes you think a bit different to what we’d thought last year, but his damside looks like three miles-plus so maybe ridden and waited with more he could be better at a trip. But it possibly takes a two and a half miler to win the [two-mile] champion chase anyway,” says Willie.
6. It’s an open race this year
“It’s going to be an open a race as you’re going to get [with doubts about Sire De Grugy and Sprinter Sacre] so if he doesn’t do it this year he’s not going to do it next year as I imagine we’ll be going further in trip after this race,” says Willie.
Read all about Willie Mullins’ chances at this year’s Cheltenham Festival in the current issue of Horse & Hound (5 March 2015), out now.