High hopes Saint Roi can prove Champion Hurdle material

Saint Roi “could be anything” as the County Hurdle winner attempts to prove he is up to Champion Hurdle class later this season.

Having impressed many with the way he won one of the most competitive handicaps of the season at Cheltenham, the JP McManus-owned gelding did little to dampen enthusiasm winning a Grade Three event at Tipperary recently.

While plans are fluid for the Willie Mullins-trained five-year-old at this stage, his son and assistant, Patrick, feels he should be treated as a Champion Hurdle contender until he proves otherwise.

The latter did, though, have a rather forgettable experience on Saint Roi at Clonmel in December.

“I thought he had all the ingredients to win the amateur maiden hurdle in Clonmel last year, but that is one of life’s great mysteries,” said Mullins.

“He jumped terribly that day and we got the physio on to him, maybe he was a bit sore. Usually he is a fast jumper.

“We think this horse could be anything. To do what he did last year in the County Hurdle off the back of just two runs for us was extraordinary, you just don’t see that happen.

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“He’s not the biggest, but he’s a fantastic jumper usually, he works with a lot of speed, he’s won at the track, although the Champion Hurdle is on a different one to the County, but for me he ticks all the boxes. Until he says he’s not good enough we’re going to think he is.”

Mullins rode Sharjah to finish second to the McManus-owned Epatante in last season’s Champion Hurdle and by the sound of things would not be giving up the ride on him to anyone else.

“Last season for four or five strides I was thinking ‘here we go’, but the mare probably won quite comfortably in the end – Barry (Geraghty) was always in position A,” he said.

“A smaller field might have helped me, we went forward in the Irish Champion to follow Honeysuckle and it didn’t seem to work so we went back to ride him patiently so he could pass horses which he seems to love.

Patrick Mullins (left) has enjoyed some great days on Sharjah
Patrick Mullins (left) has enjoyed some great days on Sharjah (Brian Lawless/PA)

“I think he’s a huge price (for the Champion) again, I think he could be a Theatreworld and be placed in the race a couple of times and on another day – Epatante was coughing in February last year – you just don’t know.

“To me he’s a fantastic horse, he had a little break after Galway and will probably have the same programme, Morgiana then back to Leopardstown. I’d love to win a third Christmas Hurdle on him and I’d love another crack at Honeysuckle.”

In the same Rich and Susannah Ricci colours is Saldier, undoubtedly talented, as he showed when winning the Morgiana Hurdle almost a year ago, but who has had his issues, having managed just two runs in the last two years.

“Saldier is back in riding away with the rest of the winter horses and we’re probably looking at following the pattern of the rest of the good hurdlers,” said Mullins.

“I think the form of his Morgiana win would put him smack bang in the Champion Hurdle picture if we can keep him right – so far we’ve had no issues with him.”

Mullins’ father has dominated the mares’ hurdle scene for years, but he suffered a rare reverse at Cheltenham in March in that division when Honeysuckle lowered the colours of Benie Des Dieux.

It was a first defeat in nine completed starts since joining Mullins and a revenge mission is on the cards.

“Benie Des Dieux is back in and, like Quevega, we won’t campaign her very heavily, we want another crack at Honeysuckle, I’d love to see them meet again,” said the champion amateur.

“I think she was unlucky, but Rachael (Blackmore, Mullins’ housemate and rider of Honeysuckle) disagrees strongly.

“I think the Mares’ Hurdle has worked out, I know they could have run in the Champion or Stayers’ but it was a great race.”

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