History-maker Sharjah took yet another Matheson Hurdle win to round-off a brilliant four days of racing at Leopardstown’s Christmas Festival, writes Jack Lacey-Hatton.
Willie Mullins' star was sent out 5-6 favourite, with son Patrick piloting, produced a late charge down the outside of Zanahiyr to nick a thrilling finish on the line.
He now becomes a four-time winner of the Grade 1 race, joining the legendary company of Hurricane Fly and Istabraq. However, only Sharjah’s four wins have come in four consecutive years.
Four-year-old Zanahiyr, with Jack Kennedy on board, produced an excellent run and was leading as they swung for the home straight, but couldn’t quite hold off the spirited favourite.
Another Mullins horse Saint Roi (6-1) was back in third after fading in the closing stages.
The low sun meant that only six hurdles were jumped across the two mile contest, but it didn’t impact Sharjah who travelled comfortably throughout before digging in, in the closing stages to seal his place in Leopardstown history.
Winning jockey Patrick Mullins said: “He's a very special horse to emulate Hurricane Fly and Istabraq.
“They are two proper legends of the game and, look he's not as good as them, but neither of them did it four times in a row. What a horse. Not everything went right but he still won."
“It wasn’t good for the heart,” added his father Willie. “Patrick said he wasn’t as sharp as in other years. He got pushed out onto yesterday’s ground which blunted his speed in the last furlong.
“But he had enough to do it in the end, it was a terrific race.
“We might go straight to Cheltenham but I’ll have a word with Rich and Susanna. It might be the thing to do because the Dublin festival doesn’t seem to work for him.
“He wasn’t as sharp as other years but four years running, you can’t expect him to keep improving.”
Road paves the way
Meanwhile in the days other Grade 1 contest Fury Road, priced at 7-1, secured a one-two for Gordon Elliott in the Neville Hotels Novice Chase.
The Gigginstown House Stud owned runner pulled clear of stablemate and favourite Wild Said Fred in the closing stages, to take his first top class success, after an excellent display of jumping with Kennedy on board.
Fury Road’s victory continued Elliott’s domination of this race in recent years, this his fourth victory in the last five years.
For the winning trainer, the decision to put cheek pieces on the seven-year-old seemed to make all the difference.
“He disappointed me last time out because I thought he had a great chance in the Drinmore and he pulled up when got to the front,” explained Elliott.
“So we put cheek pieces on him today and it seemed to work well. The dryer ground probably suited him.
“His novice hurdler form was very good, but he was great. Jack was sweet on him.
“This has been a great week for me of course, obviously I wasn’t here last time (year) because I had covid, so it’s been better than last year.”
With Davy Russell piloting, Fury Road looked well-positioned, but a big error halfway round on the second circuit didn’t help his chances of producing a big finish.
Vanillier, who won the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle over at Cheltenham last season, ran well but was a distant third.
of the rest
Earlier on in the day, Journey With Me was an impressive winner in the Pigsback.com Maiden Hurdle to maintain his unbeaten record.
The 3-1 shot battled to see off the challenge of odds-on Kilcruit, as the Rachel Blackmore-Henry De Bromhead partnership took another win.
In the end Kilcruit could only manage third with Minella Crooner in second.
De Bromhead said: “We’re delighted with him, he’s a lovely horse.
“We were hoping to go to Navan but the ground was a bit good, so we waited for here. It has turned out to be the right decision.
“There is still a long way to go but we’re delighted to win that and he has bucked the trend of our Christmas!”
There was a thrilling finish in the Advent Survey Irish EBF Mares Hurdle, where Peter Fahey’s Royal Kahala edged out Heaven Help Us by a neck.
The Winning Ways Starlet Syndicate mare, priced at 11-4, won the Grade 3 after a late lunge down the outside and will now target Cheltenham in the New Year.
“We’ll keep her to the mares’ races this season and next season when she goes over fences, I think she’ll really come into her own over two and a half or three miles,” said Fahey.
“She’s been in great nick. She had a great comeback run and I think she’ll improve again from today.
“That (Mares’ Hurdle at Cheltenham) will be the plan and she’ll have a run somewhere before then.”
In the final race of the day, the Plusvital INH Flat Race the Nice Guy closed out the festival with another success for the Mullins team.
The (evens) favourite held off a late rally from both Dorans Weir and Johnny Cigar in the closing stages to end a memorable week of Christmas racing.