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Talking Horses: Willie Mullins happy with Festival team but Saint Roi out


Saint Roi has been ruled out of the Cheltenham Festival by Willie Mullins, who had hoped last year’s County Hurdle winner would make up into a championship contender this spring.

However, the dominant jumps trainer of recent years was delighted to report no other issues affecting a remarkably strong team of high-profile horses in his County Carlow stable being aimed at next month’s event, for which he has almost half the favourites.

“Unfortunately, he’s out of Cheltenham,” Mullins said of Saint Roi. “I don’t think he’s scratched yet but chatting to JP [McManus, the 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’re the reason, maybe they’re not. We’ll see.”

Saint Roi’s only success this season came on his October reappearance at Tipperary. He appeared an unlucky loser in the Morgiana the following month but was disappointing at Leopardstown’s Christmas meeting and trailed Honeysuckle by 21 lengths in the recent Irish Champion Hurdle. He was a 20-1 shot for Cheltenham’s Champion Hurdle on Monday morning, having been a quarter of those odds in the autumn.

Mullins was otherwise sanguine as he surveyed his Festival raiding party in an online press conference organised by Jockey Club Racecourses. “We’re happy with the whole team, as far as I can see. We’ve had no last-minute problems, apart from Saint Roi, that’s the only one.”

The trainer recalled feeling worried about his stable’s ability to compete after losing some big-name horses last summer. “I was as astounded as anyone else when I read in the paper that we had 13 or 14 favourites for Cheltenham. For this to come out of where I thought we were in the autumn … If half of it comes off, it’ll be a brilliant Cheltenham.”

Asked the key to his continued dominance of jump racing, Mullins said: “To tell you the truth, I’m wondering myself. I think recruitment. I’m always searching and looking.

“At the moment, I’m looking for horses that are going to be racing for me in two years’ time. We’re always on the lookout for young horses and that’s instrumental in building a base. Of course, you need the people to give you the money to invest in nice bloodstock. We’re very lucky to have that and it doesn’t happen overnight. It’s hard for younger trainers to come in and expect to compete.”

Mullins has every reason to hope Al Boum Photo can emulate Arkle and Best Mate in winning the Cheltenham Gold Cup for a third time. “We think he’s in a good position. I’ve been happy with what I’m seeing. We don’t have any negatives at this point.”

Al Boum Photo may be the yard’s only runner in the Gold Cup, as Mullins is mulling alternative targets forKemboy, who could try the Stayers Hurdle, and Melon, who could join Allaho and Min in the Ryanair.

Despite the absence of Saint Roi, Mullins could still have strong representation in the Champion Hurdle, through Sharjah, Saldier and an interesting dark horse from France, James Du Berlais. Bought as a novice chaser for next season, he could turn up in the two-mile championship “for something to do”.

Other Festival favourites in the Mullins yard are Concertista (Mares Hurdle), Gaillard Du Mesnil (Ballymore), Monkfish (Brown Advisory), Chacun Pour Soi (Champion Chase), Kilcruit (Bumper), Hook Up (Dawn Run), Stattler (Albert Bartlett), Billaway (Hunter Chase) and Elimay (Mares Chase).

Cheltenham Festival stat of the day, by Paul Ferguson

Regular readers of my work will know that I am a huge advocate of backing novices or lightly raced horses in handicaps. Unexposed sorts are coming to the fore more regularly than ever in the Festival handicaps and 17 of the past 20 winners of the Coral Cup had raced nine times or fewer over hurdles. Ten of the 12 winners of the Martin Pipe had run no more than eight times over hurdles, so in both events you should focus your attention on those with scope to improve.

The Weatherbys Cheltenham Festival Betting Guide 2021, written by Paul Ferguson, is published on 26 February, priced £15.95. Talking Horses readers can obtain a £4 discount by using the promotion code ‘GDN21’ when placing an order.

Tuesday’s best bets

Taunton’s staying handicap chase is full of unconvincing types but there’s something to be said for Putdecashonthedash (3.05), 10-1 after opening at twice that. His win last season came at around this time of year and, although it was at Wincanton, he put up three decent efforts at this track, including when beaten just a head. He was pulled up in both starts before Christmas but this is a step down in class and he has since had a wind operation.

Triple Chief (2.00) has gone the other way, out to 20-1, but the handicapper has given him a right chance, dropping him 8lb for two runs this term, and Bryony Frost is aboard for the first time since March. He’s on a long losing run but his last two wins came at this track.

Quick Guide

Tuesday’s horse racing tips

Show

Tips by Chris Cook

Taunton 

12.30 Zero To Hero 1.00 Lily Of Leysbourne 1.30 Frankeur 2.00 Triple Chief (nb) 2.30 Rockadenn 3.05 Putdecashonthedash 3.40 Puzzle Cache

Wetherby 

1.45 Balleticon 2.15 Relkadam 2.45 En Couleur 3.20 Cybalko 3.55 Fontaine Collonges 4.30 Duhallow Tornado (nap) 5.00 Milans Edge

Newcastle 

4.40 Caribeno 5.10 Raymond 5.40 Artistic Rifles 6.10 Zamaani 6.40 Papa Stour 7.10 Ghost Rider 7.40 Kind Review 

Not everyone will feel like taking a chance on Frankeur (1.30) after he whipped round at the start at Newbury when last seen, lighting himself up and then breaking half the hurdles. But he was fancied for a much stronger race that day and the Skelton team can do little wrong. He appeals at 7-2 against a favourite from the troubled Tizzard stable.



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