Another Cheltenham Festival, another set of championship novice chases replete with Willie Mullins-trained jollies.
Things will be different this year though if Harry Fry has anything to do with it, with the sophomore trainer’s adeptness at readying fencers borne out by an astonishing strike-rate of 50 per cent in the sphere.
In Champagne Fever (3/1), Felix Yonger (6/1) and Ballycasey (5/1), the king of the Irish jumps game has either the market leader or co-favourite in the Arkle, the JLT Novices Chase and RSA Chase respectively.
However, last year the Closutton handler held a similarly dominant hand in the pre-festival betting for the longest of those three with Aupcharlie, Boston Bob and Back In Focus all well supported.
Only the latter took the laurels in his chosen engagement and this year both Champagne Fever and Felix Yonger must face runners prepared by ace chaser trainer Fry.
Champagne Fever is a past festival winner over hurdles but will have it all to do to best 2012 champion hurdler Rock On Ruby, a 5/1 shot.
Fry’s nine-year-old is unbeaten but inexperienced over fences, yet given his handler’s knack for sending out winning fencers, that shouldn’t be too much of a worry.
Nonetheless he was rated 170 at his peak over timber and is still some 10lbs better than Champagne Fever over the smaller obstacles in the eyes of the handicapper.
Should he overcome his relative inexperience he may have just too much pace over the minimum trip for a rival whom Mullins considered stepping up as far as 3m in trip earlier this term.
Meanwhile, Fry’s Seaborough, Dorset yard are also out to surpass Mullins in the JLT Novices Chase, where their 8/1 shot Vukovar faces off with Felix Yonger.
The French-bred five-year-old beat Dell’ Arca on his final run in his native land, with that one landing the Greatwood Hurdle at Cheltenham on his next start.
Vukovar’s first run in England coincided with a first career defeat in a completed race when going down narrowly to Mr Mole, but he swallowed his tongue on the ru-in on that occasion.
Next time out, with a tongue tie in place, he slammed a last time out winner by 21 lengths over 2m2f at Newbury and the unexposed type is thought to be the real deal by regular rider Noel Fehily.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.
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