County Hurdle winner Saint Roi is as low as 10-1 for the Champion Hurdle in March following a smooth win on his comeback in the Horse & Jockey Hotel Hurdle at Tipperary.
The Willie Mullins-trained five-year-old is very lightly-raced, but that did not stop him recording an extremely impressive success at Cheltenham.
Sent off the 4-7 favourite to make a winning reappearance, Mark Walsh never endured a moment of worry and despite a slightly sloppy leap at the last, Saint Roi beat Tigris River by five and a half lengths.
Mullins said: “I’m very happy with that. The race conditions suited him very well and it was a big advantage.
“Noel Meade’s horse (Beacon Edge) coming out was a help as well and we’ll take all the help we can take at this stage of the season!
“He did it nicely, but he had a big advantage with the conditions of the race.
“Mark said he was meeting the last wrong and fiddled it. I think he got a bit tight for room over the third-last. I was worried that he was coming off the bridle, but Mark said he was just tight for room.
“Otherwise he was very slick with his jumping and I’m not worried on that front.
“That’s the type of speed he shows all the time at home and his last piece of work before Cheltenham was electric. I thought going there he’d take a lot of beating.
“The likes of the County Hurdle are hard races to fancy horses in, though.”
As for future targets, Mullins added: “He did very well during the summer and is out early purely because this race suited conditions-wise.
“The Morgiana would be on the agenda, but that might be throwing him in at the deep end.
“He’s a second-season novice and there might be easier options. I think there is a race at Down Royal for second-season novices (Grade Two WKD Hurdle).”
Saint Roi was completing an early Grade Three double for Mullins who was also on the mark with the Paul Townend-ridden Shewearsitwell (11-8 favourite) in the Joe Mac Novice Hurdle. A step up in class awaits.
“It was a good performance and she’s improving all the time,” said Mullins.
“She’s a sharp little jumper and that was a huge benefit to her in this contest, stepping up in grade.
“At least I know now that she’s competitive over the minimum trip so I wouldn’t be afraid to keep her at that trip.
“I’ll have a word with Paul though because he said she was probably going as fast as she was able to so when the better hurdlers come out it might be difficult. So far so good.
“We’re very happy for Closutton Racing Club (syndicate) as it’s their first graded winner. It’s good to have a nice mare for them.
“We’ll try to keep her to mares’ company and she’ll have to go up in grade now. The dream would be to be good enough to run in the Royal Bond.
“She’s good enough to run in it now anyway and that will be in the back of our minds.
“We might try to find something between now and then for her. Timewise Down Royal could be a possibility for her.”
The other Grade Three on the card was the Like A Butterfly Novice Chase, which went the way of the Gordon Elliott-trained Galvin, who was sent off at odds of 1-4.
Winning rider Davy Russell said: “It was great and he’s getting the hang of things. It wasn’t the toughest of races, but he’s coping with things an awful lot better now.
“Gordon does a great job with all these horses and he’s a fantastic man to be riding for. I’m delighted to be a part of the team.”