Champagne Fever and Lord Windermere return at Thurles
Champagne Fever has been off the track for 576 days
PICTURE: Patrick McCann (racingpost.com/photos) Fever and Windermere set for Thurles comeback
By Mark Scully 12:50pM 23 NOV 2016
THURLES serves up a midweek treat on Thursday as a pair of former Cheltenham Festival winners make their long-awaited return to action.
Both Champagne Fever and Lord Windermere, absent for 576 and 593 days respectively, go head-to-head in the Listed 2m6f chase, with six runners declared.
While Lord Windermere's Gold Cup success came back in 2014 and Champagne Fever took the Supreme Novices' Hurdle the previous year, neither have reached the veteran stage of their careers just yet and if returning anywhere close to their best, will be big-race players this season.
Owner Rich Ricci put together a remarkable run of three successive Supreme Novices' Hurdle victories in 2013, 2014 and 2015 and it was Champagne Fever who got the ball rolling.
While Vautour and Douvan oozed class in demolishing their rivals, Champagne Fever was made to work harder as he held off My Tent Or Yours in a classic battle up the Cheltenham hill.
He suffered a shock defeat at the hands of Western Warhorse when a warm favourite for the following year's Racing Post Arkle Chase and has not raced at the festival since, a bite making him an 11th hour scratching from the Champion Chase in 2015.
Wins in the Clonmel Oils Chase and Red Mills Chase at Gowran, both Grade 2 contests, followed, with Champagne Fever not seen since finishing fifth behind stablemate Felix Yonger in the Champion Chase at Punchestown.
Lord Windermere (right) held off On His Own and The Giant Bolster
PICTURE: Patrick McCann (racingpost.com/photos)
While big things were always expected of Champagne Fever, that was not always the case for Lord Windermere, who has put together a sparkling CV nonetheless.
After making a solid start to his chasing career, he was sent off an 8-1 shot for the 2013 RSA Chase at Cheltenham and came out on top, prevailing from Lyreen Legend after Boston Bob dramatically came down at the final fence.
If that result came as a surprise, it was nothing compared to the following year's Gold Cup, when the bay was a shock 20-1 winner from On His Own in a close finish, having originally been dropped miles out the back by Davy Russell.
That win sparked wild scenes of celebration from trainer Jim Culloty, himself a three-time Gold Cup-winning jockey courtesy of the great Best Mate.
Pulled up in Coneygree's Gold Cup last year, he went the same way in the Grand National the following month and has not been seen since.
Hurdles bow for Augusta Kate
Punchestown bumper heroine Augusta Kate is set to make her hurdling debut on the same card in the 2m7f mares' maiden hurdle.
The Willie Mullins-trained five-year-old is the class act among the 16-strong field and is no bigger than 8-1 for the Trull House Stud Mares' Novices' Hurdle at Cheltenham in March.
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