Timeform weigh up whether Champagne Fever should stick to two miles or try further at the Festival...
This year for the first time, the Golden Miller will achieve Grade 1 parity with the Arkle...
Arkle Challenge Trophy: Tony McFadden
Champagne Fever has always been regarded as a stayer in the making, but that hasn't prevented him from twice winning over an extended two miles at the Cheltenham Festival, first in the bumper, then memorably in the Supreme last season. He evidently has plenty of pace, and the form of his Supreme win has worked out exceptionally well; the placed pair of My Tent Or Yours and Jezki have both subsequently won Grade 1 events and hold credible Champion Hurdle claims.
Champagne Fever had yet to be asked for his effort when blundering at the second-last fence at Leopardstown over Christmas, but he had produced a sure-footed round of jumping up to that point and has clearly taken well to chasing. In the absence of a genuine two-mile superstar, being blessed with a touch of stamina has often proven to be no bad thing in the Arkle and Champagne Fever, who has twice ground his rivals into submission up the hill, looks to hold the right attributes.
It is also worth noting that the Arkle is worth more than the JLT in terms of both prize money and prestige; it could also be the easier option this year if horses such as Oscar Whisky, Taquin du Seuil and Wonderful Charm take up their entry in the two-and-a-half mile contest.
Golden Miller: Keith Melrose
We've known since he made his debut under Rules, perhaps even before that given he's a stoutly-bred point winner, that Champagne Fever was eventually going to need further than two miles. He's done superbly well to win a Champion Bumper and a Supreme, but the evidence points to now being the time to give up the struggle.
Willie Mullins appears to know as much, too, having nominated the Dr P.J. Moriarty as Champagne Fever's next race. Stayers have won the Arkle in the past and two-milers have run well in the PJ Moriarty, but Mullins' habits are clear: four of his five PJ Moriarty winners have actually run in the RSA at Cheltenham (the other, J'y Vole, didn't make the Festival at all).
On the more recent of Champagne Fever's two starts over fences, he finished third to Defy Logic at Leopardstown. He pressed on with the winner, a scintillating but ultimately inferior horse, a long way out and was already starting to struggle with that one's pace when he belted two out. The Arkle even more than that race won't allow any such weakness.
This year for the first time, the Golden Miller holds Grade 1 parity with the Arkle. We obviously don't know yet if it will achieve the same sort of recognition as that race, but connections of Champagne Fever can, and should, look to set the trend.
Do you agree with Tony or Keith? Should it be the Arkle, Golden Miller or even the RSA for Champagne Fever? Leave your comments below.