Mullins keeping faith in Arkle-bound Champagne Fever
Irish Champion Trainer Willie Mullins has been drawing up his battle plan for next month’s Cheltenham festival. Although Champagne Fever retains an entry in three different novice events, it seems certain that he will be heading for the two-mile Arkle Trophy.
The grey will be seeking a Cheltenham hat-trick following victories in the 2012 Champion Bumper and 2013 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. After making a pleasing debut over fences, he was well beaten in third behind Defy Logic at Leopardstown over Christmas.
He has disappointed connections before, notably when trailing in a distant third in a Grade 2 hurdle at Naas last year. That poor effort was blamed on the heavy ground and he bounced back to win at Leopardstown next time. He will not be racing again before Cheltenham and remains favourite for the Arkle at 7-2.
Mullins also confirmed that Ballycasey will go for the RSA Chase and Felix Yonger will run in the JLT. Vautour will contest the Supreme Novices’ Chase after ending the winning run of The Tullow Tank last time out.
He could be joined by Valseur Lido and Wicklow Brave. Faugheen is on course for the Neptune with last year’s 25-1 Champion Bumper winner Briar Hill likely to run in the three-mile Albert Bartlett. Sure Reef may join Briar Hill but the Neptune is still an option for him.
Arvika Ligeonniere will run in the Queen Mother Champion Chase while Boston Bob may run in either the World Hurdle or the Cheltenham Gold Cup. He finished last in the Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham but has been working well at home since.
There is still no decision on the festival target for the unbeaten mare Annie Power but Mullins is pleased with the form of reigning Champion hurdler Hurricane Fly. The ten-year-old is bidding to become the oldest winner of the race since Sea Pigeon in 1981.
The opening day of the meeting will also see the remarkable Quevega attempt an incredible sixth successive win in the David Nicholson Mares’ Hurdle. She is also reported to be in rude health following a minor hiccup last month.