Impressive Champion Hurdle winner Eptante is currently the general 4/1 favourite to retain her crown at the 2021 Cheltenham Festival, but her owner JP McManus could have another potential superstar and challenger on his hands in the shape of Saint Roi.

This five-year-old hails from the all-conquering yard of Irish trainer Willie Mullins – the most successful in the history of the Cheltenham Festival with 72 winners to his name.

The Closutton maestro has saddled four winners of the Champion Hurdle courtesy of Hurricane Fly (2011 and 2013), Faugheen (2015), and Annie Power (2016).

In Saint Roi he has a five-year-old who could not have been more impressive at this year’s Cheltenham Festival when landing a monster gamble in the County Hurdle by four lengths from stable companion Aramon.

The son of Coastal Path tanked along throughout in the hands of Barry Geraghty and was still hard on the bridle turning for home.

After being produced to challenge at the last, Saint Roi showed an instant turn of foot when asked to quickly put the race to bed and score with tons more in hand than the winning margin suggests.

He made a total mockery of his opening handicap mark of 137 and to win such an ultra-competitive affair in the manner that he did given his limited experience was visually stunning.

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”Horse with a future”

Speaking after the race, Mullins said: “All the riders rode very cool races and Barry was fantastic. I told him after Saint Roi‘s last bit of work that he had improved a huge amount.

“They all arrived at the second last with fighting chances and you wouldn’t have known which one to back, but Saint Roi had improved the most since his last run. He did what he had shown me at home in his final bit of work.”

When asked if he had been tempted to run Saint Roi in the Grade 1 Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle on the opening day, he smiled and replied “no”, before adding: “He’s better than this level, but he’s handicapped nicely and I thought we had enough ammunition for the Supreme!”

Geraghty added: “I rode him at Willie’s in the autumn and he was a lovely, sweet-travelling type, but to jump as well as he did today when so inexperienced and going at pace was impressive. He flew the first and could have frightened himself, but he was up for the game.

“Time will tell how good he could be, but I would say he is a horse with a future.”

Unexposed and open to stacks of improvement

It was a performance which left me thinking that Saint Roi would be more than capable of developing into a Grade 1 performer next season.

He has bags of untapped potential after just three starts for Mullins and is open to any amount of improvement.

Saint Roi has been raised 12lb for that most taking success and a revised rating of 149 means that he is currently rated 13lb below Epatante.

It’s worth bearing in mind, however, that Nicky Henderson’s mare was also rated 137 at the start of last season when winning a Listed limited handicap at Newbury and 150 when following-up in the Grade 1 Christmas Hurdle at Kempton on Boxing Day.

Saint Roi strikes me as the type that has the scope to make similar improvement in the 2020/21 season judged on the manner of his win in the County Hurdle.

He can currently be backed at a best priced 25/1 with 888sport in the ante post betting for the 2021 Champion Hurdle, and I wouldn’t put anyone backing him each-way at those odds.

If all goes to plan, then I can see Saint Roi going off single figures for the opening day 2m feature come next March.

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