Sharjah, Saldier and Abacadabdras, the last three winners of the Unibet Morgiana Hurdle, are all among seven remaining confirmations for Sunday’s Grade One at Punchestown.
Sharjah was successful in 2018 when beating then stablemate Faugheen and he has also won a Galway Hurdle, two Matheson Hurdles at Leopardstown and finished second twice in the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham.
Saldier is still only seven but at the time of his win in 2019, he looked set to be a huge player in the championship events.
Unfortunately injuries have played a part since then but, like Sharjah, he won a Galway Hurdle under a big weight and followed up in a Grade Three at Tipperary last time out.
Patrick Mullins, assistant to his father, said: “Sharjah is a proper Grade One horse. He’s won the Morgiana Hurdle before, but he won it coming off winning the Galway Hurdle.
“Saldier has won this race before as well. We did try to step him up in trip last year and we might try that again, so we’ll wait and see.”
Saldier provided Willie Mullins with a ninth successive win in the Grade One and only Gordon Elliott’s Abacadabras prevented him from making it 10 last year.
An early faller in the Champion Hurdle, he stepped up in trip at the Grand National meeting to win the Aintree Hurdle and was subsequently fourth to Honeysuckle at Punchestown.
Mullins could also run two top-class mares in Echoes In Rain and Stormy Ireland, while Elliott has also entered Zanahiyr, winner of the WKD Hurdle at Down Royal on his reappearance.
Patrick Mullins added: “Echoes In Rain is probably a bit harder on herself at home just by being a younger horse, so she could be a little fitter than some of the other ones starting off, so we’ll let her go all being well and find out where she fits in.
“The ground doesn’t look like it will be a determining factor as none of them want it heavy and we don’t expect that.
“We’ll see their work later in the week and see how Willie wants to split them, but the Punchestown Winter Festival is an important date in our calendar.”
Joseph O’Brien’s Lismullen Hurdle winner Darasso is the only contender not trained by Mullins or Elliott.
Gavin Cromwell’s Albert Bartlett winner Vanillier is a possible runner in the Liam & Valerie Brennan Florida Pearl Novice Chase, having run a sound race to finish third on his chasing debut over a trip short of his best.
“He’s in at the weekend at Punchestown, in the Florida Pearl, and we’ll see what the ground is like,” said Cromwell.
“He’s in good nick, he worked this morning and he might go there.
“The first run sharpened him up no end so we’d be hopeful the next day when we step up in trip with him.”
Elliott could run Fancy Foundations and Run Wild Fred, while Noel Meade’s Sixshooter and John McConnell’s Streets Of Doyen are among nine entries.
Mullins looks to hold an extremely strong hand in the Frontline Security Grabel Mares Hurdle with Elimay, Gauloise and My Sister Sarah among 13 entries.
Also engaged are Henry de Bromhead’s Cheltenham Festival winner Telmesomethinggirl, Coral Cup victor Heaven Help Us and Peter Fahey’s Royal Kahala.
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