“He kept going all the way to the line, but this thing way out in the middle of the track in blue colours just came and mugged me.”
Trained by Willie Mullins, Champagne Fever’s Cheltenham career began in the 2012 Champion Bumper.
Going off at 16/1, the Rich Ricci-owned grey horse bounded up the Cheltenham hill under Patrick Mullins, a day he recalls very fondly on the show.
Ruby Walsh was on board for his Supreme Novices Hurdle victory in 2013. He beat AP McCoy’s My Tent or Yours in a close finish to win the opening race of the meeting by 1/2 length.
However, it’s his narrow defeat in the Arkle the following year that the horse will infamously be remembered for.
— Racing TV (@RacingTV) May 1, 2020
2014 Arkle Ruby Walsh
Ruby recalls how the Arkle unfolded with seemingly everything going in Champagne Fever’s favour.
“He never missed a beat anywhere,” he explained.
“He jumped spectacularly. I remember turning down the hill and pouring on a little bit of pressure, without going ballistic. I’ve no reason to believe he’s not going to get to the winning post.
“He’d won a two and a half mile Beginners Chase, he’d gone hammer and tongs in a Cheltenham Bumper and in a Supreme, so if you’ve found something that works, why change it?”
Ruby continued: “I sent him off the bend, pinged the second last. Get to the last, pings it, landed – and I don’t think he stopped. Not for one minute.
“He kept going all the way to the line, but this thing way out in the middle of the track in blue colours, just came and mugged me.
“When a 50/1 shot comes and does you, you can just feel that eerie quietness in Cheltenham. And I was feeling the same way as everybody else. I pulled up thinking ‘How did he just lose?’
“He’d done everything so right. I couldn’t believe that he’d lost.”
2015 bite incident
On the same episode, Patrick Mullins gave some more details around the freak biting incident that prevented the horse from running in the Champion Chase in 2015.
“We were going there once again thinking this is a horse with Cheltenham form who comes alive in March. We’re thinking we have a live chance,” Mullins said.
“He’s sent over and he’s in beside a horse called Un Atout, who lived beside him in his stable, which is why they were side-by-side.
“When they came off the lorry, it appeared they’d had a bit of handbags, or something must’ve been said, but Un Atout had taken a chunk out of Champagne Fever, and unfortunately, it wouldn’t have been possible to run him.
“One of those freak accidents. And, like I said, the reason they were beside one another was because they lived beside each other. There was that level of thought put into what way they were put onto the lorry, and yet it still went arse-ways!”
Champagne Fever at home
The beauty of the new Horse Racing Heroes podcast is it dives deeper into the actual horses themsevles.
In this episode, Patrick Mullins remembers how Champagne Fever was at home.
“He did have what people call the ‘look of eagles.’ He would always be looking off into the distance, over the horizon,” he recalled.
“One of those horses that you’re wondering did he see dead people or see other things? He was always looking past where you were.
“He used to live in the green barn. Hurricane Fly was also in there around that time, so they would’ve been partners. From day one, he showed an awful lot.
“He’d cover some amount of ground, that was his big thing. He had this big long stride, and used to do everything very easily at home.”
Horse Racing Heroes
Horse Racing Heroes attempts to do something different in the racing podcast sphere, by offering no betting tips or news chat, but instead having each episode focus on a well-loved horse, interviewing those close to them and trying to unearth some previously untold stories.
There are plenty of further insights and gems from both Ruby Walsh and Patrick Mullins on episode five. Head to horseracingheroes.com or listen on your preferred podcast app.