SHARJAH added his name to an exclusive roll of honour with a fourth successive victory in the Grade 1 Matheson Hurdle at Leopardstown as he overcame trouble in running to edge out tenacious adversary Zanahiyr in the shadows of the post.
As is his customary style, Petit Mouchoir set out to make the running, although initially Felix Desjy and then Saint Roi (150) contested the lead. Between them the trio set the platform for an above-average time performance by Willie Mullins’s record-equalling gelding, albeit a few lengths short of last year’s victory.
However, it was a career-best effort by Zanahiyr (155) who surpassed his outstanding juvenile performance at Fairyhouse.
The contested lead saw the Matheson field 15 lengths ahead of Heaven Help Us, who led the Grade 3 mares’ contest, through the section between the first flight on the final circuit and the first obstacle in the back straight. The maiden and handicap hurdle were a further eight lengths adrift of the mares.
Regardless of their early exertions, the main protagonists in the graded races maintained their advantage over the maiden and handicap, even though the pace lifted in those contests and were still ahead at the line in the reduced race.
Sharjah (155) is reportedly to set to bypass the Dublin Racing Festival and head straight to the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham. The tight nature of the inner track of the Dublin course suits as well as the turning nature of the Old Course at Cheltenham so, if granted good ground, the eight-year-old looks a likely candidate to chase home Honeysuckle as he did last year.
Royal Kahala (147) denied Heaven Help Us (147) the victory her front-running display probably deserved with a last gasp challenge which saw her prevail by a neck. Trainer Peter Fahey was quick to point out a soft racing surface is a prerequisite to any future entries while his mare is set to stay over hurdles. The Mares’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival would be an option if conditions are suitable.
Heaven Help Us ran her best race of the season returned to the front-running tactics which saw her successful at Leopardstown and Cheltenham last season. The Grade 1 contest for mares would also look the ideal target for the daughter of Yeats who would take some pegging back from the front on good ground.
There was very little to separate the hurdle races from the third last hurdle so even though the overall race times were slower I would be surprised if it did not pay to follow the leading players in their future assignments.
Journey With Me (130+) made a successful debut over hurdles and has the two-mile, six-furlong Grade 1 at the Dublin Racing Festival as his likely target and Minella Crooner (127+) would also be of interest in the same race.
Gordon Elliott’s gelding was also making his debut over obstacles and will benefit from the experience as a series of scrappy leaps down the back straight prevented Jack Kennedy throwing down a more serious challenge. The son of Shantou stayed on strongly from the last flight (usually the second last) and looks sure to stay three miles.
Good Time Jonny (135) (75.8) produced a sparkling finish to win the handicap hurdle and looks capable of defying the rise in the weights which is heading his way. Galon De Vauzelle (128) caught the eye with his finishing effort which is a phrase which also applies to Farrawaybay (127) who was denied a clear passage and finished with plenty still to offer.
Fury Road (159), who avoided a clash with the impressive Galopin Des Champs the previous day, opened his account over fences with victory in the Grade 1 Neville Hotels Novice Chase courtesy of an assured round of jumping in first-time cheekpieces.
The time figure reveals Run Wild Fred (151) matched his exploits in the Troytown Chase and Vanillier (141) running a personal best over fence despite not being the quickest at his fences.
In comparison to the opening chase won by Siberian Star (114), the Grade 1 winner covered the final circuit 5.9 seconds faster with most of the difference achieved down the back straight and through the closing sectional from the fourth last fence.
Jack Kennedy was happy to track the pace throughout the final circuit even though the technique of his two rivals, Run Wild Fred and Vanillier, presented plenty of opportunities for him to send his mount to the front.
On the home turn there was little choice as his mount powered to the lead on his way to completing the final section of the race in 86.4 seconds, 2.4 seconds quicker than Siberian Star who covered the same ground in 88.8 seconds.
Max Flamingo (140) ran with credit and already looks a better chaser than he was a hurdler with the seven-year-old looking more than capable of landing a quality handicap based on this showing.