Champagne set to sparkle in Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase
A small but select field go to post for today’s Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase at Sandown and Champagne West can further enhance his Cheltenham Festival claims with success in the 2m 5f contest (2.25).
The Philip Hobbs’ trained gelding developed into a smart 143-rated hurdler last season, landing a hat-trick before posting a career-best effort to finish fourth in the Grade 1 Albert Bartlett at the Festival on his final start.
The strapping son of Westerner, who was a winning pointer in Ireland before joining Hobbs, had the size and scope an even better chaser and has won two of his three starts over the larger obstacles this season.
In the first of those over 2m 5f at Cheltenham, the seven-year-old jumped well and showed a smart turn of foot to readily draw clear of Color Squadron and score by 3 1/4 lengths in the style of a very smart prospect.
Champagne Fever followed up at the same venue in workmanlike style by 1 1/2 lengths from Un Ace having not jumped fluently in a slowly run contest, before posting a solid effort at Prestbury Park last time out when chasing home Ptit Zig.
The winner is a very useful sort who is one of the leading contenders for the JLT at the Festival in March, and although Champagne Fever was eventually beaten six lenths he jumped and stuck to the task well and the pair pulled miles clear of some smart types.
It was a performance which suggested Champagne Fever was a big player for the RSA at the Festival, for which he is currently 12/1 with Coral, and I fully expect him to come through this test with flying colours.
The Paul Nicholls trained Irish Saint has also won two of his three starts over fences and looks a big player judged on his facile 12 length success at Ascot last time out, whilst Splash Of Ginge is a really tough sort who impressed when winning a competitive handicap at Cheltenham in good style by 3 1/4 lengths when last seen in action.
The latter is officially the highest rated in the line-up off 153, 1lb higher than Champagne West, but all his best form has come going left handed and I am not convinced this test will suit.
The fly in the ointment could by Irish raider Gitane Du Berlais who bolted-up on chasing debut and and receives a hefty weight-for-age and mares’ allowance of 11lb from Champagne West.
The Willie Mullins trained mare tanked around before scoring hard-held by 18 lengths at Limerick last month and looks a very exciting prospect judged on the manner of that success.