Rule looks world-beater with impressive victory
Report: Naas, Sunday
Slaney Novice Hurdle (Grade 2) 2m4f, 5yo+
RULE THE WORLD looked capable of doing just that with a bloodless victory, destroying his rivals without even coming off the bridle to saunter to a 16-length success from Minsk. Champagne Fever, the 1-4 favourite, was third.
Ruby Walsh attempted to make all on the favourite, with Bryan Cooper keen to contest the lead on Minsk. A bad mistake at the last on the first circuit by Minsk gave Champagne Fever a momentary reprise, but otherwise he was harried throughout by the eventual runner-up.
As a tactic it worked. Walsh never looked comfortable and struggled to get Champagne Fever to settle and he was the first of those in contention to come under pressure, with Walsh working hard exiting the back straight.
As the field worked off the home bend Minsk was eased into the lead and asserted quickly, killing off Champagne Fever's chances. However, in his slipstream sat a motionless Davy Russell who, having let the front two in the betting rough each other up for most of the race, cruised into contention in ominous fashion.
Much like Minsk had done to Champagne Fever, Rule The World travelled all over his hard-at-work rival, easing clear after the last in the most authoritative manner.
While Champagne Fever clearly didn't run his race and Minsk, who made a few mistakes, got racing a long way out and faded in the home straight, it was difficult to not be impressed by the manner in which the Gigginstown House Stud-owned six-year-old disposed of two high-class rivals.
He treated good horses with disdain. Russell himself couldn't quite believe it, taking a look through his legs after the second last and on several occasions looking round in disbelief as he powered away from Minsk on the run-in, hard held and hacking home.
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"Nothing surprises me in racing - he could have been last as easily as he won, but he did everything right," said trainer Mouse Morris. "There were no prisoners taken in the race. He is a nice horse. I'll have to talk to the owners [about Cheltenham]. He is a big, raw bugger."
Bookmakers make the Neptune his most likely Festival target, with Paddy Power cutting Rule The World to 12-1 (from 20), while Coral were more cautious, offering 10-1.
Russell added: "We always liked him. It wasn't a surprise that he won; maybe the fashion of the win you would question a bit. Tactics weren't a big part, we just went a good gallop and I slotted in where I could. The one thing I'm very happy with was how he jumped off a good gallop."
On the vanquished Champagne Fever, who had been vying for Neptune favouritism himself before the race, Mullins said: "He was beaten before they turned in. I would hope that's not his true self. Ruby said he didn't jump as well as he can. Maybe something will come to light. The winner is a good horse."
A respiratory tract infection was reported as the reason for Champagne Fever's poor performance.