If the champagne was undeniably flat, it would be a mistake to draw ungenerous conclusions about the potency of the toast raised in its stead. For while his big rival at Naas yesterday was plainly not himself, the breakthrough success of Rule The World suggested that he could yet live up to his incautious christening.
Champagne Fever, the outstanding bumper horse of last season, was sent off at just 1-4 to beat four rivals in the Slaney Novice Hurdle.
After an easy maiden win over timber, the grey had run a fine second to Jezki – subsequently so impressive at the Leopardstown Christmas meeting – and Willie Mullins was optimistic that the step up to two and a half miles now might elevate Champagne Fever towards the top of that division.
Ruby Walsh evidently shared that belief, setting a purposeful gallop over deep ground, but turning for home it was evident that something was amiss.
Champagne Fever was off the bridle before Minsk, who had shadowed him throughout, and soon struggling to hold his place. Rule The World had meanwhile crept on to their heels, travelling very strongly under Davy Russell.
As Champagne Fever dropped right away, apparently exhausted, Russell was able to restrain his mount until easing into the lead approaching the final flight.
Rule The World surged clear more or less under his own steam, and was eased down to score by 16 lengths from Minsk, with another 24 back to the favourite.
Rule The World had been green when worried out of a race over three miles at Cork in November, but his record so far is otherwise unblemished.
He is in the very best of hands, with Mouse Morris, and you can only pray that luck stays on their side because this is only a beginning. Asked about the horse a few weeks ago, Morris had seemed to question his readiness for Cheltenham – but his hand may have been forced now.
"He is a big, raw bugger," Morris reiterated afterwards. "We'll take it handy with him. It's easy to be a good judge when you have a machine like that. Davy gave him a super ride, and he jumped super. We'll have to talk to the owners and see where we go."
Coral were quick to recommend the Festival, quoting Rule The World 10-1 for the Neptune Investment Novice Hurdle. They eased Champagne Fever to the same price, from 6-1, but Mullins still has the 5-1 favourite in Pont Alexandre.
NAP: Lastkingofscotland (4.30 Kempton) A good second off this new mark in a better race over course and distance last week.
NEXT BEST: Pipers Piping (3.20 Wolverhampton) Has plunged down the handicap and showed conspicuous signs of renewal last time.
ONE TO WATCH: Swnymor (Tim Vaughan) was on the point of following up his debut success when falling at Chepstow on Saturday.
WHERE THE MONEY'S GOING:
Teaforthree, gallant runner-up in the Welsh version on Saturday, is 20-1 from 25-1 with Betfred for the John Smith's Grand National.Reuse content