Last season’s County Hurdle winner Saint Roi has been ruled out of the Cheltenham Festival by Willie Mullins.
The six-year-old was Barry Geraghty’s final Festival winner when bolting up in handicap company in March, and went into the summer as one of the leading players for the Champion Hurdle.
His season started well with a win at Tipperary in October – but since being stepped up in class, he has been beaten in the Morgiana Hurdle, the Matheson Hurdle and the Irish Champion.
Mullins said: “Unfortunately he’s out of Cheltenham. Chatting to JP (McManus, owner) the other day we came to the conclusion that we’re not happy with him, and he won’t run at Cheltenham.
“He just hasn’t gone forward. He’s had one or two little niggles, and I think JP was happy to just let him get over those entirely. Maybe they are the reason – maybe not.”
Mullins still has three Champion Hurdle possibles – Sharjah, who was second last year, the injury-prone Saldier and an intriguing new recruit from France, James Du Berlais. However, Sharjah may need a new jockey, as amateurs are barred from riding in the UK at present.
“I’m happy with him (Sharjah). Maybe the last race just came too soon after Christmas. Patrick (Mullins) has his own way of riding him. The better the ground, the better chance he’d have,” said Mullins
“Things aren’t looking good at the moment, we’ll have to see if the protocols change. It’s looking tough at the moment, anyhow. It will give myself and Gordon (Elliott) and any other trainers with good amateurs a problem, but it will be what it is.
“Saldier won’t run in the rescheduled Red Mills, where it was close enough. He’s entered in the County Hurdle, but he has been aimed at the Champion Hurdle all year, so we’re pressing every button we can to get him there.”
Of James Du Berlais, who is now in the ownership of Simon Munir and Isaac Souede, he added: “He had a very busy season in France last year and was bought as a novice chaser for next season, but it’s a long time to wait.
“I was happy to run him somewhere, but I’m not going to run him in the Stayers’, so we said ‘let’s run in the Champion and have a go’, rather than do nothing the whole spring.
“I think he’s rated 167, so that puts him in with a shot. It will be a true-run race – as it always is.”