Bred locally in Thomastown by John Cahill, the Stowaway gelding for the first time affords his County Kilkenny fans an opportunity to see him perform on home soil. Hopes will be high he can put his Thurles Kinloch Brae last-fence fall behind him.
Paul Townend has steered the grey three times in races, with a 100 per cent record thus far, and Champagne Fever will go off favourite to maintain that flawless strike-rate as regular rider Ruby Walsh is on duty at Ascot.
“At the ratings he’s entitled to win. He’s in good form and it would be great to get a bit of a confidence into him after a fall the last day,” said trainer Willie Mullins’ son, Patrick.
“It’s our local track and it’s a race we like to support.
“Every horse can fall and he’s schooled well since. It doesn’t seem to have left a mark on him and the fall is not a huge worry in our minds.”
Owner Rich Ricci revealed Cheltenham options were open for Champagne Fever.
He said: “He’s in good form. He’s only won two chases, that’s the remarkable thing because he does jump a fence pretty well.
“Unfortunately the last day he came down. He’s fine and we’ve got to decide yet on what race for him at Cheltenham – the Champion Chase or the Ryanair.
“He’s in great form. With his style of running he may be better off over two miles than over two four, I don’t know, but we’ll make that decision a bit nearer the time.
“You’d think he would stay, but he didn’t certainly stay Christmas time at Kempton, but I think it’s the way he runs, it’s not a stayer’s style. We’re not going to go beyond two four, that is for sure.”
Champagne Fever might be an appropriately-named winner but recently married Noel Meade will be in search of a different result as he sends Texas Jack into battle.
The Paul Carberry-ridden contender was a well-held second in the aforementioned Kinloch Brae, which went the way of Don Cossack, after Champagne Fever’s tumble.
Now he is out quickly after a decent showing to finish fifth behind Carlingford Lough in the Hennessy Gold Cup at Leopardstown last weekend.
The field is completed by Gigginstown House Stud runners, and like Texas Jack (rated 157), Bright New Dawn (has an official mark of 154) could struggle to match Champagne Fever, now assessed as a 162-performer.
Sandra Hughes’ charge does step back up in distance, though, and is also the choice of the owner’s number one, Bryan Cooper.
The other two in the maroon and white, Arnaud and Rathlin, have plenty to do on recent evidence.
Cooper said: “He’s put in some solid performances this season, but I’d be a little concerned that he ran just under two weeks ago. This could come a bit quick. He’s entered in the Queen Mother and the Ryanair, but I’d say he’s not quite up to that standard.
Gigginstown’s Eddie O’Leary said: “Bright New Dawn will be suited by the two and a half but it’s just a pity Champagne Fever is in it!”