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Hard to ignore Trifolium’s Arkle claims after Leopardstown trial

Events in Yorkshire and over the Irish Sea last weekend shook up the market behind Arkle favourite Champagne Fever, while Willie Mullins’ grey attracted further support despite taking Saturday and Sunday off.

The seven-year-old is now the 4/1 market leader in the 2m event on Cheltenham Festival Tuesday, but the field is shaping up for the most competitive Arkle renewal since 2011, following odds-on favourite victories by Sprinter Sacre and Simonsig in the last two years.

The top seven in the betting are separated by just eight points, with Mullins’ Felix Yonger the big drifter from 8/1 to 12/1 after finishing nine lengths behind Trifolium in the Irish Arkle at Leopardstown, his second consecutive runner-up spot since Christmas.

Trifolium bounded into 6/1 joint second-favouritism after that triumph and looks a terrific chasing prospect for the Gigginstown House Stud, having only debuted over the big obstacles when a winning 2/1 favourite at Thurles in November.

He finished well ahead of Champagne Fever when second behind Defy Logic in the Racing Post Novice Chase over Christmas, although Mullins’ horse smashed into the second-last fence when prominent on that occasion.

His latest Leopardstown triumph over Felix Yonger in which Defy Logic finished a poor fifth, 48 lengths behind the winner, means Trifolium has reversed form with both horses, having gone down to a 15-length defeat by the former in Navan at the start of December.

Gigginstown’s newly-minted retained rider Bryan Cooper stated that Trifolium was entitled to go for the Arkle at Cheltenham after the race and while Charles Byrnes’ gelding has only had one previous run at the Gloucestershire track, that resulted in a close third in the 2012 renewal of the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.

Having already seen off Mullins’ favourite by 11 lengths this season, as well as beating the only two horses that have finished ahead of him over fences, Byrnes’ seven-year-old looks the pick of the Irish raiders at this stage of the campaign.

However, English-based trainers have won nine of the last 11 Arkles and despite the apparent green tinge at the top of the market, there are some likely candidates flying the flag of St George this year.

Paul Nicholls’ Dodging Bullets has won all three of his starts over fences and turned over Nicky Henderson hotpot Grandouet over the festive period by 10 lengths at Kempton.

He’s attracted plenty of support at 6/1, as has Hinterland at 8/1, although the latter’s narrow win against Henderson’s horse on Tingle Creek day at Sandown looks less impressive alongside his stablemate’s recent romp.

Alan King’s Valdez could be slipping under the radar at tempting 10/1 each-way odds, after the two-time Arkle-winning trainer readied the seven-year-old chestnut for an impressive three and a quarter length win over Arnaud at Doncaster.

Rock On Ruby was withdrawn from that Grade 2 Novices’ Chase by trainer Harry Fry a few days before the race and the former Champion Hurdler looks too short at 8/1 for the Arkle at this stage, with another run before the Festival far from guaranteed to happen.