Willie Mullins will unleash yet another frighteningly strong battalion over the weekend in the UK & Ireland and whilst most eyes will be locked on Hurricane Fly, as he looks to win a fourth Irish Champion Hurdle crown on Leopardstown’s super Sunday card, there will be potentially some star novice chasers strutting their stuff in the Grade One Arkle Novice Steeplechase in the Emerald Isle.
Dual Cheltenham Festival winner Champagne Fever was fully expected to fly the flag for the Mullins’ novice chasers this campaign, but his transition to the larger obstacles has not gone exactly to plan as a shock defeat in the Racing Post Novice Chase over the festive period left many questioning his ability over the shorter trips.
That 2m 1f defeat to Defy Logic left a cloud hanging over his potential port of call at Prestbury Park in March and he was duly eased in the Arkle Challenge Trophy betting, with several shrewdies believing he may be sent to the JLT Novices’ Chase over 2m 4f and that ideology was partially franked when Mullins handed him an entry for the 2m 5f Killiney Novice Steeplechase on Saturday afternoon.
Whilst Champagne Fever may not take his chance in the Irish Arkle, this certainly doesn’t mean that Mullins will not have a leading contender for the prestigious prize and the Co. Carlow maestro is ready to unleash the exciting Felix Yonger, who is available around a 7/1 for the Arkle Trophy on the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival on March 11.
Firstly coming to punter’s attentions when beating the aforementioned Defy Logic in a Grade Two, the seven-year-old Graham Wylie-owned raider was then beaten by The Paparazzi Kid in a Limerick Grade Two at short odds-on, but nuances emerging from Mullins’s Co. Carlow base suggest that he could bounce back at the weekend en route to a tilt at the showpiece event at Cheltenham in March.
Defy Logic will have form to turn around with Felix Yonger, but the manner in which he dispatched Champagne Fever when winning last time out suggested that the Paul Nolan-trained seven-year-old could improve again and he was subsequently snipped to 9/1 for the Arkle in March and his duel with Felix Yonger on Sunday should be a mouth-watering clash.
Charles Byrnes’s Trifolium was three-and-a-half lengths behind Defy Logic at Leopardstown on Boxing Day and will launch another challenge on Nolan’s star, but he has a lot to find and having already lost to Felix Yonger this campaign as well may have to settle for the minor honours again in what is a race that will have a major bearing on a riveting Cheltenham ante-post market.
Mozoltov could be the second fire shot by the flourishing Mullins’ camp, but he has to step up on immeasurably on some decent wins of late and could struggle to be a factor in this Grade One company, whilst former County Hurdle winner Ted Veale has struggled to land a blow in some hot races over fences and is destined for another uphill battle at the weekend.