Saint Roi out of Champion Hurdle with new French recruit waiting in the wings
Last year's impressive County Hurdle winner Saint Roi has been ruled out of the Unibet Champion Hurdle but a dark horse from the Willie Mullins stable has emerged for the race in the shape of French recruit James Du Berlais.
Saint Roi was second favourite for the Champion Hurdle last autumn having started the current campaign in promising fashion by winning a Grade 3 at Tipperary in October, but he has been beaten three times at Grade 1 level since.
The most recent of those defeats was when he finished fourth to Honeysuckle in the Irish Champion Hurdle and he was pushed out to 25-1 by some firms for the festival's opening day showpiece afterwards.
Mullins said: "Saint Roi is out of Cheltenham. I had a chat with JP [McManus, owner] the other day and we came to the conclusion that we're not happy with him going to Cheltenham, so he won't run.
"He just hasn't gone forward this season. He's had one or two little niggles and I think JP was happy just to let him get over those."
Mullins could still launch a three-pronged attack on the Champion Hurdle, with dual Grade 1 runner-up James Du Berlais set to join last year's runner-up Sharjah and Saldier.
Mullins explained: "We've been watching James Du Berlais in France for the last 18 months and trying to buy him. They wouldn't sell and they were looking for a lot of money. Then, out of the blue, Simon [Munir] and Isaac [Souede] stepped in and did a deal with the trainer in France. The deal was for the horse to come over to Ireland after his four-year-old season was finished and that's what happened. They rang me and asked would I like to train him. That was a very pleasant surprise to get that call.
"He's been bought as a novice chaser, but let's run him in the Champion Hurdle and see what he's like. I was surprised when I saw his rating of 167. That really puts him in the Champion Hurdle picture. He jumps, he stays, he's got everything you want.
"He can be a tough ride from what I saw of him in France, but we'll know a lot more about him in the next two weeks because we will be asking him questions that we have not asked him before. It's a bit like French Aseel, we're going to get stuck into both of them very soon."
James Du Berlais is available at 50-1 with sponsors Unibet for the Champion Hurdle.
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