Expect Sharjah to improve for Morgiana’s race
Crowds will return to the freshman action at Punchestown for the first time since 2019 this weekend as the hugely popular two-day Winter Festival hosts the Unibet Morgiana Hurdle on Sunday, live on Racing TV.
Last year’s winner Abacadabras will try to repeat the feat, this time in front of the public of Punchestown, where he will face a potential field of six rivals selected after the last stage of forfeit today.
Gordon Elliott ended Willie Mullins’ nine-year stranglehold on Unibet Morgiana Hurdle last season and this time holds a pair of aces with the much-vaunted four-year-old. Zanahiyr join Abacadabras in the list of acceptors.
Mullins unsurprisingly holds a strong hand in a race he has already won with Thousand Stars, three-time Hurricane Fly, Nichols Canyon, Faugheen, Sharjah and Saldier with the most recent winning pair among his squad for this weekend.
Mare in progress Echoes in the rain and Stormy Ireland make up the Closutton team, while the potential field is completed by the versatile Joseph O’Brien Darasso which was put to good use in Navan this past weekend.
Sharjah was last seen finishing second behind Honeysuckle in the Paddy Power Champion Hurdle at the Punchestown Festival
Speaking this afternoon, Patrick Mullins said: “Sharjah is just one step away from the best. He is a true grade 1 horse. He has won the Unibet Morgiana Hurdle before, but he won it by winning the Galway Hurdle.
“He has a great record at Leopardstown over Christmas but he will be racing this weekend at Punchestown, everything is going well and I would expect a good performance but he will probably improve.”
Mullins won the Galway Hurdle this year over Saldier and on the seven year old owned by Rich Ricci, he added: “Saldier has had a great summer with Galway and Tipperary. He would have an advantage over winter horses and he has already won this race. We tried to step it up on a trip last year and could try again so we’ll wait and see.
“We also left Echoes In Rain and Stormy Ireland in the race this weekend,” confirmed Mullins.
“Echoes In Rain is settling much better in its races now which is great. She’s probably a little harder on herself at home just being a younger horse, so she might be a bit fitter than some of the others at the start, so we’ll let her be okay and find out where she sits. ‘integrated. It’s always difficult to get in with the novices, but her performance at Fairyhouse was probably better than Punchestown, so we’ll give her every chance to be a Champion Hurdle mare.
“Stormy Ireland is one that makes her a better jumping mare than a Flat mare. Danny Mullins comes out with a very good song. She can also go further, so it is an option for her, just like Saldier. She is in great shape. Terrain doesn’t seem like a big deal as none of them want it heavy and we don’t expect it. We’ll see their work later in the week and see how Willie wants to keep them apart, but the Punchestown Winter Festival is an important date in our calendar.
Mullins suggested this weekend was the one scheduled when Closutton’s troops began to drop with intent.
“This tends to be the start of the national hunting season for us. We probably have a week or 10 days off full steam ahead as we had a pretty dry fall so we didn’t rush them but we will always be well represented as Punchestown is a very good trail to start some good horses.
The Grade 1 Unibet Morgiana Hurdle is complemented throughout the weekend by the Grade 2 BetVictor Casino Novice Chase on Saturday in which Cape Gentleman and Amer appear to be two notable performers.
Heroes of the Cheltenham Festival Bob Olinger could make his much-anticipated fencing debut at the BetVictor Loyalty Club Beginners Chase opening on Saturday, a race won two years ago by Faugheen and last year by Asterion Forlonge.
Rank 2 Liam & Valerie Brennan Florida Pearl Novice Chase is the main support race on Sunday with Albert Bartlett the winner Vanilla given an entry there by Gavin Cromwell where he could face the impressive winner of Thurles Ballyshannon Rose for Paul Fahey.
On Saturday and Sunday, the races start at 12 noon with tickets at € 15 and € 10 for students and PAOs. Meal packages are available from € 89.
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