Richard Forristal: Mullins' Open Eagle to spread wings again
Montjeu gelding suited by tough stamina test at Kempton
Two years after Rathvinden clumsily fell while still in contention, Willie Mullins relies on Open Eagle and Thomas Hobson in this afternoon's Listed novices' hurdle at Warwick.
The brilliant champion trainer also has Black Hercules in the equivalent three-mile chase.
Danny Mullins takes the mount on the smart seven-year-old, which could be the stable's leading contender for the four-miler at Cheltenham in March, having squashed the subsequent easy winner Sambremont on his Navan fencing debut.
Black Hercules' four rivals are all well capable on their day, but you'd be hard-pushed to make a case against him; he is priced accordingly.
The novices' hurdle is a cracker. Of the locals, Born Survivor is possibly the most interesting.
Successful on his point-to-point debut in the spring, he showed a fine turn of foot at the end of his hurdle bow here last month to see off Minella Charmer, which has since dotted up at Plumpton. Consequently, Born Survivor is a worthy favourite here. He has real potential and could yet develop into a genuine Grade One horse, but he is also quite raw and immature.
Thomas Hobson was a 97-rated Flat winner that has progressed to win two of his three completed starts over flights. However, a faller on his debut, his jumping technique continues to lack fluidity, so he doesn't appeal as a reliable option in a competitive race.
Open Eagle, which trades at up to 5/1, is the one to keep on side. The Montjeu gelding skated up in deep ground in the 2014 November Handicap, and he left behind a sticky first try at hurdling to score tidily on his Fairyhouse return in November.
He was then put firmly in his place by Altior at Kempton. Time might prove there to be no shame in that, as Altior turned in a hugely commanding performance to thrust himself firmly into the Supreme Novices' picture.
Open Eagle didn't do much wrong in defeat. He came there in the straight but simply wasn't good enough to trouble the winner, keeping on for second. Given that Open Eagle's best Flat turn came over 12 furlongs in deep ground, a sterner test of stamina should suit him better.
David Mullins' mount gets that now, stepping up to an extended two-and-a-half miles on heavy going. That could prove key, so he is fancied to inadvertently enhance Altior's Festival prospects by getting back to winning ways.
Mouse Morris also sends Dromnea for a tilt at the Classic Chase. Mark Enright's mount always has a chance in this sort of staying handicap, but preference is for Foxbridge.
Nigel Twiston-Davies' mud-lark won three times in succession at Ffos Last a year ago, when he was in his element in the extreme conditions. A brave second at Cheltenham off a mark of 124 on his November return, he then wasn't suited by Kempton over Christmas. However, Foxbridge should relish this three-mile-five-furlong test.
As such, he is a live each-way player off 126 for a weight of just 10st 6lb, with Jamie Bargary also taking a valuable 5lb off his back.
Don Cossack did what he had to do in the Kinloch Brae Chase on Thursday.
He was customarily lazy and had to be ridden at his fences with some gusto, which isn't what you like to see in a Gold Cup contender.
The proposed application of cheek-pieces at Cheltenham should help sharpen him up, but he didn't do anything at Thurles to convince anyone that might have needed convincing of his credentials.
Of the beaten horses, his fellow Gigginstown Stud-owned Wounded Warrior emerged with credit on his return. Placed in Grade Ones as a novice last term, Noel Meade's seven-year-old has scope to improve.
Outpaced over an inadequate trip on Thursday and lacking jumping sharpness, Wounded Warrior kept on gamely to go from fourth to second after two-out.
He has been mooted as a Grand National type for the future, but there could yet be a big day in him this year. Indeed, with next month's Gold Cup at Leopardstown likely to cut up, it is surprising that he isn't quoted in the betting for that.