British Champions Day again proved a successful hunting ground for Irish runners and Pat Smullen was yesterday reflecting on the triumph of Dermot Weld's Forgotten Rules and the brave performance of Free Eagle.
Smullen capped off his finest-ever season by landing the Long Distance Cup for a second season but he suggested that Free Eagle, who was third behind Noble Mission and Al Kazeem in the Champion Stakes, "came home with his reputation enhanced".
Both Weld's runners went into their respective races with the least experience in their races but Forgotten Rules followed up his Punchestown Bumper and Galway Festival successes by beating a strong staying field with the likes of Leading Light and Estimate.
"We obviously think a lot of him as a potentially high class stayer for next year," Smullen told The Herald.
"He showed his greenness in the straight and he will have learned a lot from the experience."
The Ascot Gold Cup is an obvious target for the four-year-old who is unbeaten from his three starts and while not drawing comparisons to the legendary stayer Yeats, Smullen did admit he has the potential to make his mark on the staying division for many years to come. "He has a long way to go to be mentioned in the same breath as a great horse like Yeats but he does have the potential as it was only the third start of his life and when he learns to race properly, God knows where he might end up."
Free Eagle had been a Classic hope for the Weld team over last winter but an injury in April meant he missed the majority of the season until returning on Irish Champions Weekend and then running in Saturday's Champion Stakes despite the ground being softer than ideal for him.
With no race for the three-year-old to run in until next May, Weld let him take his chance and he ran a blinder to finish third.
"No horse wanted the ground as soft as it was on Saturday," Smullen added.
"But I couldn't be more pleased with him in defeat and I think he came out of the race with his reputation enhanced with the conditions as they are and again it was only his fourth run.
"I think the real deep ground took his turn his foot away from him and he's only learning to race now."
Smullen has made no secret of his high opinion of Free Eagle and still isn't for turning on that.
"I feel we didn't see the turn of foot he has and in my opinion he is going to be the main horse in all the middle distance races next year," the Offaly man concluded.