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Sharjah to headline Willie Mullins’ Saturday Leopardstown team

Sharjah is set to head Willie Mullins’ three-pronged attack on the Chanelle Pharma Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown on Saturday.

The eight-year-old won the Grade One Matheson Hurdle at the Dublin track for the third successive season at Christmas and will be accompanied by stablemates Saint Roi and Saldier this weekend.

They finished fourth and sixth respectively behind him last time.

“I’m very happy with them and hoping Saldier will run a lot better than he did at Christmas. He seemed to need the run,” said Mullins.

“Saint Roi was a little disappointing, but I think he will improve on that too.

“Sharjah does not need to improve. I hope he doesn’t do what he did last year and make a mistake at the first hurdle down the back, which threw him completely for the rest of the race.”

Chacun Pour Soi will be out to repeat last year’s victory in the Ladbrokes Dublin Chase following his Grade One triumph there over Christmas.

“I was delighted with him at Christmas. We got a run into him down in Cork and that paid off well,” Mullins told a Dublin Racing Festival zoom press call.

“I think he’s in great shape and I’m hoping he’ll be just himself in that race.

“We still have Min there and Tornado Flyer.

“We’ll probably let Min take his chance, but we haven’t fully decided which direction we’re going with Tornado Flyer yet. We’ll see how he works during the week.”

The exciting Energumene heads six Mullins’ entries in the Patrick Ward & Company Solicitors Irish Arkle Novice Chase.

The seven-year-old has created a big impression in winning both his starts over fences.

“He looks a natural chaser. He easily went back to two miles, so I think he has to take his chance here,” said the Closutton trainer.

“Of course we’ll have Franco De Port who won at Christmas as well. Was he a lucky winner? We don’t know. They went a ferocious gallop that day.

“Unexcepted is a good horse over two miles as well, so it will be interesting to see if he turns up.

“Janidil is in the same ownership as Unexcepted, so he might go for a longer race.

“Asterion Forlonge probably won’t go there, even though he was a Grade One winner on the track. As for Blackbow, we’ll see.”

Mullins has yet to finalise his runners for the Nathaniel Lacy & Partners Solicitors 50K Cheltenham Bonus For Stable Staff Novice Hurdle over two and three-quarter miles.

He has 10 entries out of a total of 36 possibles and they include Gaillard Du Mesnil, who was impressive over two and a half miles on this course in late December.

“He’s been very good. I think the horse he beat (Mr Incredible) won at Naas on Sunday, so the form is working out well.”

Ganapathi, Shadow Rider, Stattler and Blue Lord may join him in the line-up.

Sharjah and Mullins land famous hat-trick in Matheson Hurdle

Sharjah and Patrick Mullins made it a fabulous hat-trick when displaying a fantastic turn of foot in the Matheson Hurdle at Leopardstown.

Runner-up in the Champion Hurdle to Epatante in March, Sharjah has not been sent off favourite for any of his wins, remarkably.

Ridden cold by Mullins, he was dropped out right at the rear as Rachael Blackmore attempted to make all on Aspire Tower.

Saint Roi, a Willie Mullins stablemate of the winner, had no excuses on this occasion – but well-positioned by Mark Walsh, his jumping did not stand up to the test in the highest company.

Another Willie Mullins inmate, Saldier – having his first run for more than 400 days – ran well for a long way before dropping away after the last.

But Gordon Elliott’s Abacadabras disappointed and never looked like winning at any stage.

Briefly Blackmore and Aspire Tower looked as if they might have slipped the field, but Sharjah (11-2) arrived on the scene still on the bridle before quickening up to win by two lengths. Petit Mouchoir ran on for third.

Paddy Power cut the winner to 8-1 from 16s to go one better than last season in the Champion Hurdle.

“He’s some horse and he likes this track. Patrick loves riding him, and the horse responds to him,” said Willie Mullins.

“It can be very hard to ride a horse like that, the way he rides him, but he has great confidence in him.

“For a guy his size and weight, he has huge commitment. He does a lot of other work at home, running the yard as assistant trainer. He might be taking my job shortly!

“I’d imagine Sharjah will come back here for the Irish Champion Hurdle at the Dublin Racing Festival.

“He has a little bit of class about him. He was second last year in the Champion Hurdle, and might have been a little far back then.

“Saldier ran a great race on his comeback. I thought Saint Roi would finish closer – but Mark said he went for his race too early and he’d like to have sat longer.”

Patrick Mullins said: “I just love riding him. He’s so straightforward. It’s easy to ride him like that when you know the turn of foot he has.

“He gives you as much as he can on the bridle, but he is tough off it as well. He just missed the last – but for that, we might have won a shade easier.

“Dave Porter, who looks after him, was trotting him up this morning, checking him, and said he was like Jackie Chan, he was in great form.

“He was keen today, which he usually isn’t. He stayed in for the summer and didn’t get much of a break, but it hasn’t done him any harm.

“I thought we went a strong gallop there but then slowed up turning out of the back.

“My plan was to track Saint Roi because I thought he had plenty of speed and I knew if they slowed up I had plenty of speed too

“Turning in I was thinking ‘we’re not getting to Aspire Tower’ so I had to commit a little earlier than I wanted to.

“A strong-run two miles suits him, because they are coming back at him, and a slow-run two miles suits him as he has such speed. He’s a wonderful horse to ride in these races.

“He doesn’t have huge scope at his hurdles, but he’s very clever. You have to leave him alone, and he’s good at getting in tight.

“He has the odd off day, and that’s maybe why he gets forgotten about sometimes because he’s not hugely consistent.

“On his day he’s as good as any of them. Last year in the Champion Hurdle there was a big field, and we didn’t go a huge gallop.

Sharjah still had ground to make up at the last
Sharjah still had ground to make up at the last (PA Wire)

“In a normal year with a smaller field that might put me four or five lengths closer for nothing. Would that make me win the race? You’d have to believe that.”

On riding another Grade One winner as an amateur, Mullins added: “I just like to justify my place riding those horses, obviously being the son of the boss and being an amateur.

“It’s great today, but I was raging over Melon (third in the Savills) yesterday. I felt that was one I might have left behind me, but I suppose you can’t win them all. I wish I had rolled the dice at the second last rather than playing it safe.”

Mullins trio take on Abacadabras in high-class Matheson Hurdle

Willie Mullins fires three strong arrows at Leopardstown’s Matheson Hurdle.

County Hurdle winner and young pretender Saint Roi, the lightly-raced but highly-talented Saldier and the relatively unheralded Sharjah – bidding for a hat-trick in this race, having given Epatante most to do at Cheltenham in March – all present persuasive cases for Mullins on Tuesday.

Saint Roi seeks revenge on Gordon Elliott’s Abacadabras following their meeting in the Morgiana Hurdle – when those connected to the JP McManus-owned five-year-old felt he was slightly unfortunate.

Assistant trainer Patrick Mullins, who maintains his partnership on Sharjah, said: “You’d have to think Saint Roi was unlucky in the Morgiana ,and we’d like to think he can turn the tables on Abacadabras.

Abacadabras jumps the last clear in the Morgiana with Saint Roi (white cap) having plenty to do
Abacadabras jumps the last clear in the Morgiana with Saint Roi (white cap) having plenty to do (Niall Carson/PA)

“Saldier is obviously coming back from a long lay-off, but we’ve got plenty of work into him. He still falls into the ‘could be anything’ category, so I wouldn’t discount him in any way, shape or form.

“Sharjah has won this for the last two years. The Flat campaign didn’t go to plan with him, so we’ve given him a break and freshened him up – and I’m delighted to be riding him again.

“Hopefully we can go for the hat-trick, but it might be difficult.”

As ever Elliott provides stiff opposition with Abacadabras, who pushed Shishkin close at the Cheltenham Festival, looking to build on his Morgiana win.

“Some of the Grade Ones at Leopardstown have attracted some great line-ups, and this is another quality race – it’s far more than just a rematch between Abacadabras and Saint Roi from Punchestown,” Elliott told Betfair.

“I was obviously delighted with Abacadabras at Punchestown, where I thought he did well to win because the race did not go to plan for him.

“He didn’t jump well and found himself in front too soon – but he was still able to win, which is a good sign.

“He is going to switch back to better ground here – which will suit him – and he’s been in very good shape since Punchestown, so I’m expecting a good run.

“I think he is a proper Grade One hurdler at this trip and I think if he runs up to his best he will be right there at the finish.”

Elliott also runs the nine-year-old Petit Mouchoir – winner of the race four years ago -who has his first start for the yard since leaving Henry de Bromhead.

Elliott said: “Petit Mouchoir has been a regular in these races for quite a few seasons.

“We bought him at the sales in the autumn, and he’s been given plenty of time to settle in and acclimatise to the routine here and he looks to be in good shape.

“I do think that he will improve for this run – and he is taking on some top class sorts – so I’d be hoping for a respectable showing, and I know there will be more to come from him following this run.”

Aspire Tower was very impressive on his comeback at Down Royal
Aspire Tower was very impressive on his comeback at Down Royal (Brian Lawless/PA)

De Bromhead is represented by Aspire Tower, who is only four but comfortably beat Abacadabras at Down Royal early in the season.

“He ran really well in Down Royal and he’s a horse with a very exciting future,” said his jockey Rachael Blackmore.

“Things went all wrong for him in Cheltenham last year (in the Triumph), but he still managed to get up the hill in second.

“He’s a great one to have in the yard.”

Noel Meade’s Beacon Edge and Gearoid O’Loughlin’s Coeur Sublime complete the field.

High hopes Saint Roi can prove Champion Hurdle material

Saint Roi “could be anything” as the County Hurdle winner attempts to prove he is up to Champion Hurdle class later this season.

Having impressed many with the way he won one of the most competitive handicaps of the season at Cheltenham, the JP McManus-owned gelding did little to dampen enthusiasm winning a Grade Three event at Tipperary recently.

While plans are fluid for the Willie Mullins-trained five-year-old at this stage, his son and assistant, Patrick, feels he should be treated as a Champion Hurdle contender until he proves otherwise.

The latter did, though, have a rather forgettable experience on Saint Roi at Clonmel in December.

“I thought he had all the ingredients to win the amateur maiden hurdle in Clonmel last year, but that is one of life’s great mysteries,” said Mullins.

“He jumped terribly that day and we got the physio on to him, maybe he was a bit sore. Usually he is a fast jumper.

“We think this horse could be anything. To do what he did last year in the County Hurdle off the back of just two runs for us was extraordinary, you just don’t see that happen.

“He’s not the biggest, but he’s a fantastic jumper usually, he works with a lot of speed, he’s won at the track, although the Champion Hurdle is on a different one to the County, but for me he ticks all the boxes. Until he says he’s not good enough we’re going to think he is.”

Mullins rode Sharjah to finish second to the McManus-owned Epatante in last season’s Champion Hurdle and by the sound of things would not be giving up the ride on him to anyone else.

“Last season for four or five strides I was thinking ‘here we go’, but the mare probably won quite comfortably in the end – Barry (Geraghty) was always in position A,” he said.

“A smaller field might have helped me, we went forward in the Irish Champion to follow Honeysuckle and it didn’t seem to work so we went back to ride him patiently so he could pass horses which he seems to love.

Patrick Mullins (left) has enjoyed some great days on Sharjah
Patrick Mullins (left) has enjoyed some great days on Sharjah (Brian Lawless/PA)

“I think he’s a huge price (for the Champion) again, I think he could be a Theatreworld and be placed in the race a couple of times and on another day – Epatante was coughing in February last year – you just don’t know.

“To me he’s a fantastic horse, he had a little break after Galway and will probably have the same programme, Morgiana then back to Leopardstown. I’d love to win a third Christmas Hurdle on him and I’d love another crack at Honeysuckle.”

In the same Rich and Susannah Ricci colours is Saldier, undoubtedly talented, as he showed when winning the Morgiana Hurdle almost a year ago, but who has had his issues, having managed just two runs in the last two years.

“Saldier is back in riding away with the rest of the winter horses and we’re probably looking at following the pattern of the rest of the good hurdlers,” said Mullins.

“I think the form of his Morgiana win would put him smack bang in the Champion Hurdle picture if we can keep him right – so far we’ve had no issues with him.”

Mullins’ father has dominated the mares’ hurdle scene for years, but he suffered a rare reverse at Cheltenham in March in that division when Honeysuckle lowered the colours of Benie Des Dieux.

It was a first defeat in nine completed starts since joining Mullins and a revenge mission is on the cards.

“Benie Des Dieux is back in and, like Quevega, we won’t campaign her very heavily, we want another crack at Honeysuckle, I’d love to see them meet again,” said the champion amateur.

“I think she was unlucky, but Rachael (Blackmore, Mullins’ housemate and rider of Honeysuckle) disagrees strongly.

“I think the Mares’ Hurdle has worked out, I know they could have run in the Champion or Stayers’ but it was a great race.”