Fever set for Arkle test
Willie Mullins is leaning towards letting Champagne Fever chase his Cheltenham Festival hat-trick in the Racing Post Arkle Trophy on March 11.
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Winner of the Champion Bumper in 2012 before claiming the Supreme Novices' Hurdle last March, the seven-year-old has been ante-post favourite for the two-mile novice chasing championship event since the start of the season.
He made a sparkling start to his career over fences at Punchestown in November, but ran well below par when only third at Leopardstown's Christmas Festival.
The flying grey has missed engagements since and is heading straight back to Prestbury Park.
While he remains among the latest forfeits for both the JLT Novices' Chase over two and a half miles and the RSA Chase over an extended three, Champagne Fever, who was partnered by stable jockey Ruby Walsh in a spin in front of the gathered media on Wednesday morning, is set to line up as favourite on the opening day.
Assessing his major hopes for the three novice chases, Mullins said: "With Champagne Fever it looks like it's going Arkle-wise.
"I think it has to be the RSA for Ballycasey and the JLT has to be the target for Felix Yonger."
The master of Closutton also holds a strong hand in the novice hurdle division, with ante-post favourite Vautour heading three major challengers in the Festival curtain-raising Supreme Novices' Hurdle.
Faugheen looks set for the Neptune Investment Management Novices' Hurdle, with last year's Champion Bumper winner Briar Hill primed to play a starring role in the three-mile Albert Bartlett.
Mullins revealed he had changed Faugheen's feed on Wednesday but did not appear too alarmed at this stage as he added that he was "great" and "ready to run"
Mullins said: "Valseur Lido, Vautour and Wicklow Brave would be three for the Supreme.
"At the moment I'm looking at the Neptune for Faugheen and I'd imagine Briar Hill has the profile for the Albert Bartlett.
"Sure Reef looks like he'll stay all day and would either go for the Neptune or the longer race."
Arvika Ligeonniere has yet to show his brilliant best when going left-handed but is bound for the Queen Mother Champion Chase.
"We'll be doing one or two things differently with him, simple enough things," said the champion trainer.
Boston Bob, second in the Albert Bartlett two years ago and a faller when leading at the final fence in last year's RSA, could run in either the World Hurdle or the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
However, he would need to bounce back to form having finished last of six runners in Cheltenham's Cleeve Hurdle at the end of January.
Mullins said: "Boston Bob is in the World Hurdle and Gold Cup. On his last run he shouldn't be doing anything, but he has done very well and I'd imagine we'll leave him in both."