Arkle Chase preview
Arvika Ligeonniere and Paul Townend will bid for a big Leopardstown double
(Healy Racing Photos)
Arvika Ligeonniere aims to enhance his Cheltenham Festival claims with a fourth straight victory over fences in the three-runner Frank Ward Solicitors Arkle Novice Chase at Leopardstown on Saturday.
Despite being sidelined for over two years by injury, the Willie Mullins-trained eight-year-old has returned seemingly better than ever, making a winning debut over fences at Punchestown in May before enjoying a summer break.
He was a brilliant scorer in the Drinmore Novice Chase at Fairyhouse on his comeback and secured further Grade One honours at Leopardstown over Christmas, beating both of this weekend's rivals Oscars Well and Benefficient in the process.
Should he confirm that superiority, he would appear Ireland's main hope for the Arkle Trophy at the Cheltenham Festival in March, although he also has the option of stepping back up in trip for the Jewson Novices' Chase.
"He's in good form and hopefully ground conditions will be similar to what they were at Christmas," said Mullins.
"If he can repeat that performance hopefully he'll run a big race."
Oscars Well has two and a half lengths to find with the hot favourite on their meeting here last month and trainer Jessica Harrington is hoping a better round of jumping could help her charge bridge the gap.
"I don't know if we can or we can't turn the form around, but there are only three of them in there and our horse is in good form, so we might as well give it a go," said Harrington.
"He hit the first fence hard in the race at Christmas and probably didn't jump as well as he should after that.
"Hopefully he'll jump better and we'll see what happens."
Tony Martin's Benefficient was beaten 16 lengths into fourth in the same race and acknowledges Arvika Ligeonniere is going to prove a tough nut to crack.
"He's been in good form since the last day and we're happy to let him take his chance," said Martin.
"Obviously it's going to be difficult to beat Arvika, who looks top-class, but there are only three runners and hopefully our horse will give a good account of himself."
Only five go to post for the Neptune Investment Management Novices' Hurdle at Cheltenham tomorrow, but Festival clues are certainly on offer.