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14:05 Cheltenham: Dodge a Bullet and back Trifolium

Charles Byrnes’ Trifolium looks to hold outstanding credentials to land the Arkle for Ireland.

A former top-class hurdler who finished a close up third behind Cinders And Ashes in the 2012 running of the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, he has looked the real deal since being sent chasing this season, winning two of his four starts. He was especially impressive on his latest outing in the Grade 1 Arkle Chase at Leopardstown when beating Felix Yonger by nine lengths.

Prior to that he had finished 11 lengths in front of Champagne Fever when chasing home Defy Logic in the Grade 1 Racing Post Novices’ Chase at the same venue. He is improving with every run and is a major player.

Fellow Irish raider Champagne Fever comes alive at Cheltenham in March, and has put up his two best performances at the last two Festivals. Willie Mullins’ grey won the Champion Bumper in 2012 and the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle last year when out-battling My Tent Or Yours.

He also scored easily on his chasing debut in a modest contest at Thurles, but then got turned over at 8/15 when finishing third to Defy Logic in the Grade 1 Racing Post Novice Chase at Leopardstown. In that contest a bad mistake stopped him in his tracks before eventually getting beaten by 14 1/2 lengths.

A lack of a recent run could be seen as a concern, but Champagne Fever is clearly a danger to all given his record at the track and his powerful connections.

The best of the home team looks to be Dodging Bullets. Paul Nicholls’ gelding did not put a foot wrong in winning his first three starts over fences, and was particularly impressive at Kempton when slamming Grandouet by 10 lengths in a Grade 2 contest.

The gelding also ran a cracker against his elders when going down by just a 1/4 of a length to Module in a the Grade 2 Game Spirit Chase at Newbury last time out, where the heavy ground was far from ideal. He traveled like the best horse in that contest and it’s hard not to see him being in the thick of the action at the business end of affairs.

Harry Fry’s Rock On Ruby is unbeaten in two runs over fences, but has faced an easy task on both occasions. Due to this lack of competition, it is hard to know how good he is, but he was a class above these over hurdles. A winner of the 2012 Champion Hurdle, he also finished runner-up to Hurricane Fly in last year’s renewal and has jumped well and showed a nice turn of foot in his two runs over the larger obstacles.

The big question mark is his age, as only two horses aged nine have scored in the history of the race – Sir Ken in 1956 and Danish Flight in 1988.

The best outsider could well be Valdez. His trainer Alan King knows what it takes to win this contest having landed back-to back victories in 2006 and 2007 with Voy Por Ustedes and My Way de Solzen.

The seven-year-old is unbeaten in three runs over fences and showed a terrific attitude in the latest of those when beating Arnaud by 3 1/4 lengths in the Grade 2 Lightning Novices’ Chase at Doncaster. He is a sound jumper who digs deep when asked, and the stiff uphill finish at Prestbury Park looks sure to play to his strengths.