Early Doors reverts to hurdling for his belated seasonal debut at Punchestown on Friday, with trainer Joseph O’Brien hopeful the former Galway Plate winner can make up for lost time.
The JP McManus-owned eight-year-old, who landed the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle at the 2019 Cheltenham Festival, gained his first victory over fences at Galway in July 2020.
Partnered by Mark Walsh, Early Doors will have his first run since winning the Galway Plate 520 days ago in the Tote+ Pays You More On Tote.ie Hurdle as he takes on eight rivals over two miles and three furlongs.
O’Brien said: “We are hoping for a nice run. He had a setback after he won the Galway Plate, so we wanted to give him a bit of time.
“He is back over hurdles and we’re hoping to give him a bit of confidence and hoping that he runs a good race. Then we will take it from there.
“We are taking baby steps with him. The plan will be to go back over fences again, but he has good form over hurdles. He should run a nice race, but this is very much a stepping stone. The ground will be fine for him.”
Among Early Doors’ main rivals are the Willie Mullins-trained Cilaos Emery, who also reverts to hurdles following victory in a four-runner Listed chase at Thurles on his seasonal bow, and Gordon Elliott’s unbeaten four-year-old Saint Felicien, who landed a two-mile novices’ hurdle at Gowran on his stable and seasonal debut last month.
Cilaos Emery beat the reopposing Darver Star by three lengths at Thurles when conceding 3lb, but the pair will be off level weights this time.
Patrick Mullins, assistant to his father, said: “It looks a mix and match kind of a race. Cilaos Emery was fourth in the (2020) Champion Hurdle and behind Darver Star that time, but Darver Star maybe looks to have regressed since then, so it looks like it could be a good opportunity at the weights.
“He could be a Bachasson kind of horse that could mix and match, over fences, hurdles and different trips.”