Unibet Morgiana Hurdle (Grade 1)
SHARJAH landed the Unibet Morgiana Hurdle for the second time and brought his Grade 1 tally to five with a decisive victory in the first top-level race of the National Hunt season.
Patrick Mullins has built up a great association with the Susannah Ricci-owned son of Doctor Dino, winning the Guinness Galway Hurdle back in 2018 and the last three renewals of the Grade 1 Matheson Hurdle at the Leopardstown Christmas meeting. He was sent off the 6/4 favourite here against just two rivals, with last year’s winner Abacadabras (stiff) and Darasso (injured in transit) both scratched on the day.
Zanahiyr set the pace with Sharjah in close attendance, while the latter’s stablemate Echoes In Rain spoiled her chance by pulling hard and making some mistakes. Mullins oozed confidence as his mount loomed alongside in the straight and, after edging right when asked for an effort early on the run-in, quickly asserting to score by three lengths, with Echoes In Rain a further 12 lengths adrift.
A delighted Patrick Mullins said afterwards: “The race played out ideal for me. He jumped great, was outjumping Davy (Russell on Zanahiyr) and I kept pulling him back. It turned into a sprint which suited him. That’s the best feel he’s given me and he loved being hard on the bridle.
“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!”
Willie Mullins, saddling the winner of this race for an amazing 10th time in 11 years, confirmed a bid for a record-breaking fourth successive Matheson Hurdle was on the agenda.
“He’ll go back to Leopardstown at Christmas all being well. He runs his race every day and has a little bit of class. He’s a wonderful servant to have around the place. It was very tactical but the way it played out played into Sharjah’s hands,” he said.
Regarding Echoes In Rain he added: “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.”
Gordon Elliott was quite pleased with the four-year-old Zanahiyr saying: “It was a bit of a sprint and he needs a faster gallop. He’s a big idle fella and was beaten by a very good horse so there is no excuse. We’ll probably look at Leopardstown over Christmas with him now.”
Rest of the Card
WILLIE Mullins saddled a double on the day as Dysart Diamond, owned and bred by Eleanor Manning, also struck in the Frontline Security Grabel Mares Hurdle.
The 7/2 chance made smooth headway to lead approaching the last, although Bryan Cooper needed to get more serious in the closing stages to hold off Royal Kahala by half a length.
“I’m delighted with how well she’s improved through the season to come from a handicapper up to win a listed race. She likes goodish ground which she has today but wouldn’t be suited by real winter ground. She’ll probably get nice ground in Leopardstown,” said the champion trainer.
Jumping proves crucial
The Liam & Valerie Brennan Florida Pearl Novice Chase was the chief supporting race on the card and jumping proved crucial here as Vanillier made most under Keith Donoghue to land the two-mile, six-furlong Grade 2 event.
A couple of non-runners reduced the field to just four and, after evens favourite Sixshooter took a fatal fall four out, last season’s Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle winner was getting the better of Ballyshannon Rose when that rival also fell at the last.
This left the 13/8 shot to come home 26 lengths clear of Fancy Foundations.
“On the whole he jumped well, although I would have liked if something had joined him earlier in the race just to force a bit more pace into it. He’s just a dour stayer,” said Gavin Cromwell, who trains the grey for Paul and Helen Keaveney.
“I walked the track beforehand and it’s nice safe ground (officially yielding, good to yielding in places). Hopefully he’s okay in the morning as he’s a big horse and wants to get his toe in.
“There are two staying chases at Christmas, one at Leopardstown and one in Limerick. He’ll have an entry in both of them and we’ll see what the ground is like closer to the time.”
Elliott bags another double
GORDON Elliott’s powerful team continues in good form and the Cullentra House trainer bagged a double with Mr Fred Rogers and Sassy Yet Classy.
Those who made Mr Fred Rogers 7/4 favourite for the INH Stallion Owners EBF Maiden Hurdle must have been worried when Davy Russell was hard at work in third early in the straight.
However, the Sholokhov gelding found an extra gear from the last and stayed on well to beat Shatreusse by a length and three-quarters.
Elliott said: “He stays well and I like the way he put his head out. Willie Murphy won a bumper with this horse and recommended the lads (It’s Going To Be Great Syndicate) to send him to me so a big thanks to him. The lads are from Carlow.”
Elliott was mob-handed in the Pertemps Network Group Handicap Hurdle (Qualifier) and saddled four of the first six home as the Conor Maxwell-ridden Sassy Yet Classy (14/1) led before the last to beat stablemate Dallas Des Pictons by three lengths.
“I thought the ground wasn’t soft enough to be honest and Conor gave her a great ride.
“The lads (A P Partnership) travelled up from Tralee so I’m delighted that she’s won for them. She might go over fences, while Dallas Des Pictons and Folcano ran well and could be two for the Final at Cheltenham,” said Elliott.
The Cheltenham Festival is also very much in the thoughts of connections of The Big Doyen following an impressive victory in the Irish Mirror (Pro/Am) Flat Race.
After the 11/4 shot drew right away from the odds-on Cool Survivor in the straight to score by all of 15 lengths under Barry O’Neill, trainer Peter Fahey said: “I came here full of confidence. His first run was good when he was green enough and I think he’s progressed and matured since. He’s a horse that will be a lot better on deeper ground.
“The owners (Money For Jam Syndicate) are from Athy and there is about 10 or 15 involved. He won’t run again until Cheltenham and is a horse that will progress with time.”
ENDA Bolger is eyeing up a trip to Cheltenham next month with Shady Operator after the 5/4 favourite led home a one-two for the both the Bruree trainer and owner J.P. McManus when drawing clear of stablemate Midnight Maestro on the run-in to take the Pigsback.com Risk Of Thunder Chase by seven lengths.
“I just said to Derek O’Connor that you’re starting to enjoy that as this horse was his first winner here in February over the banks. We’ll probably be going to Cheltenham in December with him,” said Bolger before adding: “The second horse ran well. It was his first run since the Festival here and his first time around there was a little bit rusty. You can’t beat a run around here so he’ll be a nice horse to look forward to.”
Fully Charged followed up a win at Gowran Park last month when again prominent throughout to land the Ryans Cleaning Handicap Chase.
The 4/1 chance made most of the running but having been headed by Port Stanley after two out, rallied again on the run-in before holding the late surge of his full-brother Alfa Mix by a neck.
Winning trainer Henry de Bromhead said: “He just lacks a bit of concentration. He’s not ungenuine at all but the blinkers have really helped him focus better. I’m delighted for the O’Reilly sisters (Three Swallows Partnership) and hopefully he’ll go for the Paddy Power Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas.
“He keeps galloping. He looked beaten jumping the last and fair play to Hugh (Morgan), he kept a little bit up his sleeve for after the last.”