WILLIE MULLINS is leaning towards allowing Champagne Fever to chase his Cheltenham Festival hat trick in the Racing Post Arkle Trophy on March 11.
The 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 in finishing third at Leopardstown's Christmas Festival.
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The flying grey has missed engagements since and is heading straight back to Prestbury Park. While he remains among the latest forfeits for the JLT Novices' Chase over two and a half miles and the RSA Chase over an extended three, Champagne Fever is set to line up as favourite on the opening day.
Assessing his 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 Irishman 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 aimed at the three-mile Albert Bartlett.
n The Irish Turf Club are "watching with interest" after Pat Hughes was named as a second trainer facing charges related to the possession of substances contrary to regulations.
Hughes appeared in court last week on eight charges of possession of animal remedies. The case was adjourned until May 8.
His fellow handler Philip Fenton is due in court today charged with similar offences in a case brought by the Irish Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.