Driven clear on the run-in by Patrick Mullins, Sharjah completed back-to-back wins in the Grade 1 Matheson Hurdle at Leopardstown.
In a race which saw stable-companion and 10/11 favourite Klassical Dream blunder badly at the fourth before finishing a well-beaten last of five, the 9/2 winner cruised up alongside Petit Mouchoir turning for home and, once popped a question by Mullins at the back of the last, forged clear to score by three and three-quarter lengths, with Coeur Sublime (reportedly made a respiratory noise) back in third.
“Patrick gets on well with him and knows him really well,” stated winning trainer Willie Mullins. “He’s a good horse on nice ground and, as Ruby keeps reminding me, if he wasn’t brought down, he would probably have been placed in the Champion Hurdle.”
And he reflected: “Klassical Dream and Petit Mouchoir went at it up front and Patrick looked content all the way. Klassical Dream stood off the first down the back and I’m not sure how he survived it – he seems fine, but will be stiff in the morning.
“He probably needs much softer ground against this sort of opposition.”
“The way the race unfolded, Patrick had to go with Petit Mouchoir. But he always looked confident and, once he landed over the last, made sure of it.
Of course, Sharjah could come back here for the Irish Champion Hurdle in February, or go straight to Cheltenham. We’ll have to discuss things with Rich (owner Rich Ricci), who likes Patrick riding his horses.
Sharjah was the second leg of a double for Mullins, initiated when 9/10 favourite Stormy Ireland made all under stable-jockey Paul Townend to beat stable-companion Elfile in the Grade 3 Advent Insurance Mares Hurdle. The winner (“she’s not big, but has a big heart and is a brilliant jumper”, according to her trainer) will be aimed at Cheltenham’s Mares Hurdle.
The earlier Grade 1 Neville Hotels Novice Chase fell apart, with a total of four withdrawals, including both Minella Indo and Carefully Selected due to the ‘good’ ground on the chase course.
Only three went to post. And the race, predictably, produced a one-two for Gordon Elliott and Gigginstown House Stud, a partnership enjoying a fourth Grade 1 win of the festival, as 4/9 favourite Battleoverdoyen saw off Champagne Classic by a length.
The winner dictated the pace under Davy Russell and jumped well but, hanging to his left on the run-in, had to be driven out to seal victory.
“He’s a real nice horse and, don’t forget the other horse is a good horse too, rated 150,” explained Elliott.
“It wasn’t ideal with the small field and Davy said he just hacked around. But he’s a smashing horse. He could come back here in February (for the Grade 1 Flogas Novice Chase, over a shorter trip) or go straight to Cheltenham (for the RSA). And the second horse will go for the National Hunt Chase.”
Gigginstown House Stud enjoyed a phenomenal festive period, bagging no less than nineteen races over the four days, between Leopardstown, Limerick and Down Royal, including a quartet of Grade 1 prizes.
Battleoverdoyen’s success was the middle leg of Sunday treble at Leopardstown, initiated when Cobbler’s Way bagged the Pigsback.com Maiden Hurdle for the Festival’s dual Grade 1-winning partnership of Henry de Bromhead and Rachael Blackmore, and rounded off by odds-on favourite Eric Bloodaxe in the bumper.
Continuing Tom Hamilton’s superb strike-rate in bumpers for Joseph O’Brien, Eric Bloodaxe saw off Wide Receiver in workmanlike fashion, prompting his trainer to admit:
He’s a beautiful horse and has always stood out in his work.
And he added: “He won well first time and, although it was a messy race today, he managed to do the job again. He won’t be over-raced this season and I’ve never had it in my head that he’d go to Cheltenham, although I wouldn’t rule it out. He’s a horse we’ll mind for the future.”