'He's like Santa, he always seems to deliver' - super Sharjah seals hat-trick
Better the devil you know than the devil you don't. Sharjah was staring us straight in the face; it could not have been any more obvious.
Not only had he won the Matheson Hurdle for the last two years, he was the highest-rated runner in the race by 5lb and was second in last season's Champion Hurdle too. What more convincing did you need?
The problem is we prefer potential. Sharjah was second in last season's Champion Hurdle, but Saint Roi might win this season's one. That's why he was favourite, that's why Abacadabras was second favourite and that's why Sharjah was 11-2.
"He's a bit like Harchibald in that he gives you everything on the bridle, but he's tough when he comes off it too," said jockey Patrick Mullins of Sharjah afterwards.
Harchibald won five Grade 1s in his career, Sharjah now has four and a Galway Hurdle on his CV. It's about time he got the recognition he deserved considering he was following in the hallowed footsteps of Istabraq and Hurricane Fly by winning this race for a third time, although those two legends added a fourth each.
You sometimes forget Patrick Mullins has a Mr next to his name on the racecard. He is officially an amateur, but he's about as amateur as Anthony Joshua was at the Olympics in 2012 and he unleashed another withering uppercut to the pros here.
Mullins put forward the case his 16th Grade 1 victory had little to do with him, arguing: "He’s just so straightforward. It’s easy to ride him the way I do when you know the turn of foot he has."
Maybe so, but you still need to hold your nerve. You still need to contain your excitement until the last possible moment. It's all well and good getting dealt a pair of aces, but they are no good to you if you smile when you get them. This particular pot was pocketed thanks to patience.
There are few horses in training who travel with such ease through their races as Sharjah and, as Mark Walsh began to ask Saint Roi what he was made of, Mullins was still sitting motionless. Jack Kennedy was enduring a nightmare passage up the inner on Abacadabras, so it was left to Aspire Tower to throw down the gauntlet.
The four-year-old showed a level of maturity well beyond his years, but the older legs of Sharjah soon had his measure and he sprinted clear for a two-length win. If anything, he was value for more.
This was in the bag from early in the home straight and Sharjah is now 8-1 (from 16) with Paddy Power to go one better in the Champion Hurdle in March. Saint Roi is out to 10-1 (from 9-2), while Abacadabras is 16-1 (from 5). Aspire Tower was clipped into 10-1 (from 16).
“On his day he’s as good as any of them," said Mullins, before adding: "Dave Porter, who looks after him, was trotting him up this morning and said he was like Jackie Chan. He could not have been in better form. He's like Santa, he rocks up here every year at Christmas and always seems to deliver.
"My plan was to track Saint Roi because I thought he had plenty of speed. 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.
"He has the odd off day, and that’s maybe why he gets forgotten about sometimes, because he’s not hugely consistent. But he's some horse."
Indeed he is. It was a record eighth win in the Matheson Hurdle for Willie Mullins, who admitted afterwards that the ease with which Sharjah swatted away Saint Roi came as a surprise.
The trainer said: "I thought Saint Roi would finish closer, but Mark [Walsh] just said he went for his race too early and that he'd have liked to have sat longer."
He added: "Sharjah is some horse and he likes this track. Patrick loves riding him, and the horse responds to him. 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!"
He might take mine too, as he arrived into the press room to write his column for the Irish Independent shortly after winning the final Grade 1 of the week at Leopardstown. It was a sixth for the stable in four days.
Abacadabras, who faded into fifth after being snatched up on the home turn, was found to have mucus in his trachea.
This day belonged to the current star of Irish hurdling, not the potential future ones. Sharjah was on song again and, when he is like that at Leopardstown, there is no sweeter tune.
For all our exclusive free bet offers and must-have daily promotions click the free bets button or go to racingpost.com/freebets