Sharjah rewarded Patrick Mullins’ loyalty when reclaiming his title in the Grade 1 Unibet Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown on Sunday.
The eight-year-old took the contest in 2018 and is a regular presence among the placed runners in the top-calibre hurdle contests, a status that saw him start as the 6/4 favourite.
He faced only two opponents with the late withdrawals of reigning champion Abacadabras and Joseph O’Brien’s Darasso leaving only Gordon Elliott’s Zanahiyr and stablemate Echoes In Rain to challenge him.
A faultless round of jumping had the smooth-travelling Champion Hurdle runner-up well placed to take the lead over the last, after which he happily pulled clear of Zanahiyr to prevail by three lengths, with Grand 1-winning mare Echoes In Rain a further 12 lengths behind.
“He runs his race every day and he has a little bit of class. He’s a wonderful servant to have around the place,” said Willie Mullins.
“I’d imagine he’ll go back to Leopardstown at Christmas, all being well.
“It was very tactical, but the way it played out played into Sharjah’s hands.”
Of Echoes In Rain’s disappointing performance, the trainer said: “They went a bit too slow for the filly. She was too buzzy and didn’t jump well enough at that slow pace.
“She has a lot of improvement to do, but hopefully she will improve.”
Patrick Mullins opted to keep with Sharjah over Echoes In Rain, a decision that proved wise as the bay provided him with his first triumph in the race.
“The race played out ideal for me,” he said.
“He jumped great, he was out-jumping Davy (Russell on Zanahiyr) and I kept pulling him back. It turned into a sprint which suited him.
“He’s given me some great days, but a lot of credit has to go to David Porter and Eilish Byrne who look after him and ride him out.
“I’m very grateful to Rich Ricci because I’ve got to ride this horse ahead of the number one jockey a couple of times.
“I could have ridden Echoes In Rain today, but I wanted to stay loyal to Sharjah and luckily it’s paid off.
“He doesn’t get the credit he deserves. He’s like Santa – I can’t wait for Christmas now!”
Earlier, the Mullins-trained Dysart Diamond was a determined winner of the Listed Frontline Security Grabel Mares Hurdle under Bryan Cooper.
The chesnut has run well in handicap contests from summer through to the autumn and successfully made the step up in grade to score by half a length from Peter Fahey’s Royal Kahala, having started at 7/2.
Declan Queally duo Western Victory and The Getaway Star were third and fourth respectively, with Henry de Bromhead’s Dawn Run winner Telmesomethinggirl fifth as the 3/1 favourite.
“I’m delighted with how well she’s improved through the season to come from a handicapper up to win a listed race,” Mullins said of his mare. She likes goodish ground and she’s getting nice ground here today.
“I’m sure once we get winter ground it won’t suit, she’ll probably get nice ground in Leopardstown.”