Open Eagle team not deflated by Punchestown setback

Connections of Open Eagle remain upbeat after the runaway November Handicap winner suffered an odds-on reverse on his hurdling debut at Punchestown on Sunday.

Open Eagle team not deflated by Punchestown setback

The six-year-old made a huge impression when sauntering clear on the final day of Flat season at Doncaster last year for David O’Meara , prompting the Supreme Horse Racing Club and Willie Mullins to snap him up.

He appeared to have been found an excellent opportunity to get his jumping career off to a successful start over the weekend, but having failed to convince in the jumping department, he had to make do with minor honours in third.

However, Supreme racing manager Steve Massey feels there is still plenty to look forward to for the rest of the season and beyond.

He said: “We were obviously a bit disappointed he got beaten, we hoped he would win, but we still think we have a very good horse going forward.

“It was his first run over hurdles and he was just a bit deliberate in the jumping department. Ruby (Walsh) said he lost two lengths at every hurdle.

“He also wasn’t as keen as we were expecting and we’ll probably make more use of him on his next run.

“We think the two and a half miles is fine for him and we’ll try and find another maiden hurdle in three weeks or so.

“We gave him the entries at Cheltenham, it would have been daft not to, but it was always likely to be too much too soon for an inexperienced horse like him.”

While Open Eagle will not be part of the Mullins army heading to Cheltenham next month, Avant Tout could sport the Supreme silks at Prestbury Park following a creditable effort in Listed company on Sunday.

The winner of a French bumper before a wide-margin success on his Irish debut at Tramore on New Year’s Day, the five-year-old stepped up in class at Punchestown.

Avant Tout looked in danger of being tailed off at one stage leaving the back straight, but plugged on in the straight to finish on the heels of the placed horses in fourth.

Massey feels the two-mile distance was on the short side for the embryonic chaser and a potential step up to three miles in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle has been mentioned.

“I was delighted with the way he ran. He just got done for toe, as we thought he might over two miles.I was bit worried he was going to be beaten 30 or 40 lengths turning for home, but he ran on well and I think he’ll be a lovely horse once he goes over two and a half and three miles, particularly when he goes over fences.

“He’s entered in the Neptune and the Albert Bartlett at Cheltenham, but if he goes, I think the Albert Bartlett will probably be the one. We’ll leave it up to Willie to decide. If he thinks he’s good enough then great, if he doesn’t, he won’t go. We won’t be taking any horses over there who we don’t think have a chance.”

Meanwhile Sign Of A Victory heads the weights for the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury on Saturday after 32 horses stood their ground in the prestigious handicap hurdle at the five-day confirmation stage. Nicky Henderson’s charge was last seen finishing a distant fourth to Faugheen in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton but had previously won a handicap hurdle at Ascot in good style from stablemate Dawalan. Henderson, seeking a sixth win in this race, has three other possibles that include Dawalan, who was a winner at Musselburgh on Sunday.

Ante-post favourite Calipto carries plenty of confidence from the Paul Nicholls stable despite being absent since suffering defeat to Tiger Roll at Cheltenham in October.

“He actually ran all right that day but choked towards the end of the race and was off to the vets within 48 hours. I am delighted by the way Calipto has been working recently, he’s quite unexposed and I’m expecting a big run on Saturday.”

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