Byline: PETER O'HEHIR
CHAMPAGNE FEVER'S all-the-way win in the Weatherbys Champion Bumper prevented an Irish whitewash on the second day of the Cheltenham Festival.
The win, a seventh in the race for Willie Mullins, proved particularly sweet as the grey, in the colours of Susannah Ricci, was ridden by the trainer's son Patrick who held off the challenges of second day hero Barry Geraghty (on favourite New Year's Eve) and Ruby Walsh (on Pique Sous).
Ante-post favourite for weeks, Champagne Fever was sent off at 16/1 and delighted his trainer who admitted: "After the way so many of our horses have run over the two days, this is a huge relief.
"We've always considered him a really good horse.
"Patrick gave him a terrific, confident ride. It's always great to have a winner here and it's really special when your son is in the saddle."
Champagne Fever was Patrick Mullins' second Festival winner, having landed this event on Cousin Vinny. But a sting in the tail followed this win, a two-day ban for exceeding - by one - the number of times he was allowed to use his whip.
Apart from the bumper, the day proved largely disappointing for Irish challengers. But it was a day to savour for trainer Nicky Henderson who broke Fulke Walwyn's Festival record with a fabulous four-timer. And sharing in an incredible day for Seven Barrows was Geraghty who completed a Grade 1 treble on Finians Rainbow, Simonsig and Bobs Worth.
Runner-up in the Arkle a year ago, Finians Rainbow got the better of Henry de Bromhead's reigning champion Sizing Europe in a bizarre climax to the Queen Mother Champion Chase.
Left in front at the fourth, when Wishfull Thinking crashed, Sizing Europe dictated the pace but was stalked by Geraghty on the eventual winner. …