Mullins saddles two as he bids for repeat victory
Prix les Grandes Gueules du Sport - Prix la Barka (Grade 2) | 2m5f110y, 5yo+
Victorious in the race a year ago when Un De Sceaux successfully reverted from fences, Willie Mullins sends Shaneshill and Open Eagle to contest the Prix la Barka at Auteuil on Saturday when their nine rivals in the Grade 2 event will include the Nicky Henderson-trained L'Ami Serge.
Shaneshill, the mount of Ruby Walsh, will be racing over French-style hurdles for the first time and how he fares will determine whether he returns to the track for the French Champion Hurdle next month.
Mullins said: "Shaneshill disappointed on his last two starts since winning the Galmoy Hurdle at Gowran Park in January. He seems in good form and we're hoping for better from him this time.
"He stays well so the trip won't be a problem. He has lots of experience and the soft ground will suit him. We'll see how he gets on and, if he runs well, he'll be going back there next month."
Open Eagle ran only twice last season and followed up a win at Thurles by landing the valuable Ballymore Handicap Hurdle at the Punchestown festival last month. He, too, will be tackling French hurdles for the first time.
Mullins, who twice won the event with Thousand Stars, said of Paul Townend's mount: "Open Eagle won well at Punchestown. He should like the soft ground and I think the French style of racing will suit him."
Henderson said: "L'Ami Serge has been running extremely well and it was a terrific performance at Sandown when he won. It looks an excellent race and the ground is the biggest concern, but he has won on heavy and we're looking forward to it."
The Guillaume Macaire-trained Device, winner of 13 of his 17 races over hurdles, is likely to prove the main threat to the three-strong raiding party.
Meri Devie, third behind stablemate Bapaume in the Grade 1 AES Champion Four-Year-Old Hurdle at Punchestown last month, represents Mullins in the Grade 3 Prix After Foot RMC Prix Questarabad (4.00), a race he landed with Footpad last year.
Mullins said: "Meri Devie had to miss Cheltenham because of a hold-up but she ran very well at Punchestown last time and we think she has improved. Her lack of experience is a concern but she's in good form."