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Don rules but Champagne Fever can strike

Champagne Fever is still on target for a crack at the Queen Mother Champion Chase at the Cheltenham Festival

By Frank Brownlow

Champagn Fever is still on target for a crack at the Queen Mother Champion Chase at the Cheltenham Festival - despite yesterday's crashing fall at Thurles which opened the door for Don Cossack to triumph.

And Champagne Fever is likely to come up against Sprinter Sacre in what is one of the Festival highlights, Nicky Henderson's stable star due to be in action at Ascot tomorrow.

Gordon Elliott's pride and joy Don Cossack continued his fantastic season in a dramatic Ladbrokes Ireland Kinloch Brae Chase.

The Meath-based trainer has never made any secret of the regard in which he holds the Gigginstown House Stud-owned eight-year-old, declaring after a Fairyhouse bumper win in 2012: "If I was a horse I'd sleep with him, he's that good."

After a couple of years of mixed results, he has certainly come of age this term, completing a hat-trick for the campaign in the John Durkan Memorial Punchestown Chase in early December.

With Champagne Fever lying in wait at Thurles, a fascinating race was in prospect, and the big two had it between them from a long way out.

The two were virtually upsides approaching the final obstacle when 4-5 favourite Champagne Fever - one of Ireland's big hopes at the Cheltenham Festival - knuckled on landing and ended up on the turf.

His exit left 6-4 chance Don Cossack in a league of his own and Bryan Cooper's mount came home fullly 44 lengths clear of last year's winner Texas Jack.

Elliott is now looking forward to sending his stable star to Prestbury Park in March, with the Ryanair Chase his likely target.

"He's done everything right this year and he had a proper test today. He might have been even more of a test than the John Durkan as Champagne Fever is a classy horse," said the trainer.

"It's a shame he fell as you don't know what would have happened, but Bryan thought he had him covered and I was standing at the last (fence) and I thought we had, but you never know and you have to jump.

"He'll go to Cheltenham. He's in the three big races, but I'd say all being well it will be the Ryanair."

The Willie Mullins-trained Champagne Fever was coming back from three miles to two and a half having seemingly failed to get home in the King George at Kempton on Boxing Day.

The champion trainer is in no rush to commit to future plans, but owner Rich Ricci hinted his charge could come right back to two miles for a tilt at the Queen Mother Champion Chase.

Mullins commented: "It was all to play for and certainly wasn't over.

"We'll take him home and see where we go from here."

Ricci said: "I'd think long and hard now about dropping back to two miles.

"I just think the way he runs - attack, attack. What a spectacle seeing him and Sprinter Sacre."

Belfast Telegraph

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