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'He doesn't get the credit he deserves' - Sharjah shines in second Morgiana win

Sharjah clears the last to land a second Morgiana Hurdle
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Sunday: Morgiana Hurdle, Punchestown

Sharjah strengthened his case to be considered one of the most underappreciated hurdlers Willie Mullins has trained with his second Unibet Morgiana Hurdle success under trusted ally Patrick Mullins.

Trying to shine in Honeysuckle's shadow has been an unenviable task for the ever-reliable eight-year-old, but he made full use of this chance to put his name in lights with the Champion Hurdle heroine waiting for the Hatton's Grace.

Sharjah's last ten starts in hurdle races in which the De Bromhead superstar has not lined up have produced five Grade 1 wins, a Galway Hurdle triumph off top weight and a Champion Hurdle second to Epatante. Susannah Ricci's stalwart has been sublime.

It says something about how underrated Sharjah is that he was only marginally favourite in a three-runner Grade 1 against Zanahiyr, a four-year-old yet to make the breakthrough at the highest level, and 143-rated stablemate Echoes In Rain.

The latter, who was bidding to become just the fourth hurdler rated 143 or lower this century to win an open Grade 1 hurdle in Ireland, proved overly keen in Sean O'Keeffe's hands and was well held in third.

Zanahiyr, who ran creditably and probably enhanced his reputation in defeat, would have been better suited by tracking an end-to-end gallop instead of making his own pace.

It all went smoothly for the 164-rated winner though. He always appeared comfortable and skipped three lengths clear of one half his age to score at odds of 6-4.

"This horse doesn't get the credit he deserves," said the beaming winning rider.

"Without Honeysuckle, he'd have won at Cheltenham and Punchestown last spring. He always gets overlooked because he seems to run bad in February and hasn't been a champion hurdler [at Cheltenham], but worse horses have won Champion Hurdles."

Patrick Mullins celebrates his Morgiana Hurdle success on Sharjah

He added: "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 few times. I could have chosen Echoes In Rain today but said I'd stay loyal to Sharjah. Thankfully it paid off."

The two-time Morgiana hero was halved to 10-1 for the Champion Hurdle with Betfair Sportsbook. A return to Leopardstown at Christmas, when he will bid to join Istabraq and Hurricane Fly by winning the Matheson Hurdle for a record-equalling fourth time, is now on the cards.

Members can watch the replay here

"It was impressive because when I saw him in the ring I thought he looked big," said champion trainer Mullins, who was recording his tenth win in the last 11 runnings of the Morgiana and an 11th in total.

"I didn't think he was really straight but he showed his class. Patrick rides him well and has great confidence in him. Sharjah loves that. They're a good team."

Asked if believed Sharjah good enough to win a Champion Hurdle, Mullins said: "I suppose there's Honeysuckle getting in the way but who knows what's going to happen or who'll be around come Cheltenham?"

He added of Echoes In Rain, who entered the race as 10-1 second favourite in the Champion Hurdle market but was eased to as big as 25-1 after: "They probably just went too slow for her. She was too buzzy and didn't jump well enough going at that pace.

"As the season goes on she'll get better with racing. She's a lot of improving to do but hopefully she can."

Gordon Elliott was satisfied with Zanahiyr's first outing in open Grade 1 company. He said: "It was a bit of a sprint and he needs a faster gallop – he's a big, idle horse – but I thought it was a good run. It could possibly have been a career best. He was beaten by a very good horse and had no excuses."

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I could have chosen Echoes In Rain today but said I'd stay loyal to Sharjah. Thankfully it paid off
E.W. Terms