All roads lead to Kempton on Stephen’s Day for Champagne Fever after the flying grey made an impressive return to action in the Clonmel Oil Chase.

The Champion Bumper and Supreme Novices' Hurdle hero was only narrowly denied a Cheltenham Festival hat-trick in last season's Arkle Trophy and was an 8/11 favourite for his comeback run in a fascinating renewal of this Grade Two event.

Paul Townend, standing in for the sidelined Ruby Walsh, appeared keen to get a lead aboard the Willie Mullins-trained odds-on shot, but Champagne Fever was eager to get on with his job and was in front passing the stands with a circuit to go.

Some exuberant leaps heading down the back straight kept the pressure on his rivals and when nearest pursuer Realt Mor made a mess of the second fence from the finish, the race was as good as over.

Champagne Fever galloped on towards the final fence and another accurate leap sealed his six-length victory over Alderwood.

The seven-year-old is a best priced 8/1 with Paddy Power and sponsors William Hill for the King George VI Chase at Kempton and that could be his next port of call.

Mullins said: "I was delighted with what he did considering how he pulled in the first half of the race. I didn't think he could pull like that and still beat a field of horses rated 150-plus.

"Last week I wasn't coming here, but in his final bit of work he sparked and we decided we'd run him. He's improved over the last ten days.

"We're looking at the John Durkan (Memorial Chase at Punchestown). However, I think Boston Bob is going to go there, and maybe he (Champagne Fever) is just better being a little fresher.

"Maybe no run between now and then (Kempton) might be better for him - just keep him good and strong and well."

Cheltenham Festival hero Champagne Fever eases home in Clonmel Oil Chase


The champion trainer hopes Champagne Fever can develop into a realistic contender for the Cheltenham Gold Cup back at Prestbury Park in March.

"We're looking at the long-distance races. He has to improve, but the ultimate aim would be the Gold Cup," he said.

"He has to prove he's a Gold Cup horse. He hasn't done that yet."

The disappointment of the feature event was Sizing Europe, with Henry de Bromhead's popular veteran coming home sixth of seven runners.

De Bromhead said: "It was disappointing and my immediate reaction is (to blame the) ground."

"It was disappointing and my immediate reaction is (to blame the) ground" - Sizing Europe trainer Henry de Bromhead

Champagne Fever completed a double for the Mullins team, with Killultagh Vic getting the day off to a flyer in the opening INH Stallion Owners EBF Maiden Hurdle.

Sixth and fifth respectively in the Cheltenham and Punchestown champion bumpers, the 1/4 favourite made short work of his rivals on his hurdling bow, making most of the running and coming home four and a half lengths clear of Virtuoso Rouge.

"We thought there'd be a lot more pace. We didn't envisage having to make the running, but he jumped well when he got to the front," said Mullins.

"He had point-to-point experience up his sleeve and he galloped on up the hill.

"Looking at what he did today, he should stay further than two and a half miles."

Jarlath Fahey's Jennies Jewel emerged triumphant after an attritional EBF T.A. Morris Memorial Mares Chase.

The 8/1 shot was the only one able to go with the front-running Pollywollydoodle and boxed on gamely to win the Grade Three prize by four and a half lengths in the hands of Ian McCarthy.

Fahey said: "That was a very good performance and she has more than earned her Graded win. She had a lovely run here first time over fences recently and we did plenty of schooling with her since. Ian gave her a brilliant ride.

"Originally we were only toying with the idea of briefly going chasing with her as she is a valuable mare, but we'll have to rethink and could run in those mares' chases.

"There is also the possibility she could go back for the Tara Handicap Hurdle next month, too."

The Bold Beckey was a 4/1 winner of the Clonmel Oil Race Day Handicap Hurdle in for trainer TJ Nagle and conditional jockey Shane Crimin.

Nagle said: "She's only a pony but is game and has been incredibly well all the time.

"I thought she was a certainty if she handled the ground and Shane said he always thought she was going to win."

Gordon Elliott's consistent mare Clara McCloud (4-1 favourite) got back on the winning trail with a determined display in the Clonmel Oil Service Station Handicap Hurdle.

"She's a nice mare and Gordon has minded her very well. She benefited from a break prior to Cheltenham and stepped up over there and stepped up again today," said winning jockey Barry Geraghty.

Pumbaa (11/10) delivered for favourite backers in the Prior Park Service Station Clonmel Handicap Chase, but Mullins' odds-on favourite Pearl Diamond was beaten into second by 20/1 shot Kennady in the bumper.