An outstanding afternoon for the Willie Mullins team at Leopardstown on Tuesday was capped by the popular success of Sharjah in his bid for a hat trick of wins in the Grade 1 Matheson Hurdle.
His victory followed hot on the heels of other Closutton inmates Monkfish, who enhanced his already considerable reputation with an easy win in the Grade 1 Neville Hotels Novice Chase, and Concertista, the impressive winner of the Grade 3 Advent Insurance Irish EBF Mares Hurdle. Mullins also saddled Stattler to win the 2m4f maiden hurdle.
Making his first start over hurdles since running second to Epatante in the Champion Hurdle in March, Sharjah was sent off at 11/2 to land his third Matheson, a race in which the first two home in last month’s Grade 1 Morgiana Hurdle, Abacadabras and the Mullins-trained Saint Roi, were strongly fancied.
However, both were disappointing, with Saint Roi fading into fourth after briefly threatening to take a hand and Abacadabras being eased into fifth by Jack Kennedy once his chance had gone.
Instead, it was the front runner Aspire Tower who gave Sharjah most to do, with the four-year-old answering every call of Rachael Blackmore to hold his advantage heading towards the final flight. Sharjah could be viewed travelling ominously well under Patrick Mullins, however, and after flying the final hurdle, produced a powerful burst to kick clear for a two-length score.
Aspire Tower, who is still only a four-year-old, ran a brave race for Henry de Bromhead in second, three lengths ahead of the outsider Petit Mouchoir, making his first start for Gordon Elliott, in third.
“My fella stuck his head down and was tough in the finish,” Patrick Mullins told Racing TV. “On ratings, the younger horses had to come and catch him, and they didn’t. Is that Saint Roi’s best? I’m not sure, I think he’s better than that, I wouldn’t give up on him yet.
“I’d love another go at a Champion Hurdle with Sharjah. It was a big field last year and when you’re riding a horse that needs to be dropped out, that puts you three or four lengths further back than you should be. In a normal year, it’s a smaller field – I should be able to be closer for nothing and does that get me past Epatante? Maybe it does.”
Sharjah was cut into 6/1 in some places to go one better in the Champion Hurdle next March.
Now the winner of eight races, the French-bred seven-year-old was bred by Ecurie Haras De Beauvoir out of the winning Royal Academy mare Saaryeh and is a half-brother to the Listed-placed Sahawar. He shares his sire, Haras du Mesnil’s Doctor Dino, with a host of other high-class jumpers including Master Dino, La Bague Au Roi and Sceau Royal.
Monkfish justifies reputation
The Mullins team had earlier celebrated Grade 1 success courtesy of a bloodless performance from Rich Ricci’s Monkfish in the Neville Hotels Novice Chase.
Last year’s Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle winner had made a fine impression when landing his chasing debut at Fairyhouse last month and was again impressive under Paul Townend, travelling smoothly into contention to take it up at the tenth before fending off old rival Latest Exhibition, last year’s Albert Bartlett runner-up, to win by three lengths. The pair pulled 58 lengths clear of the third Conflated.
Monkfish is now a best-priced 9-4 for the three mile Grade 1 novice chase at the Cheltenham Festival, a race formerly known as the RSA.
“It was a very good performance from a horse having his second run over fences, to take on more experienced rivals at a Grade 1 track,” Willie Mullins told Racing TV. “I was very pleased with that.
“There was a lot of pressure on him going to the last, with Latest Exhibition who has a bit more experience than him. He pulled himself together, fought his way over it, and he just had a little bit in reserve.
“I’d imagine we’ll look at the Flogas Chase. We’ll focus on that first, and if all goes well, we can look at Cheltenham after that.”
Purchased by Harold Kirk and Willie Mullins for £235,000 at the 2018 Tattersalls Ireland Cheltenham May Sale after winning a point-to-point at Stowlin, Monkfish was bred in Ireland by Cyril O’Hara out of the Old Vic mare Martovic. His sire, the late Whytemount Stud resident Stowaway, currently heads the leading British and Irish Jumps sires’ list.
Meanwhile at Newbury, Bravemansgame ran out the impressive winner of the day’s feature event, the Grade 1 Challow Novices’ Hurdle.
Allowed to bowl along in front by Harry Cobden, Bravemansgame had settled into a good rhythm when the race took a dramatic turn with the departure of the Kim Bailey-trained Does He Know, who ran out heading towards the fifth flight of hurdles.
That left a field of only four to complete and although Star Gate and The Glancing Queen each challenged within striking distance of Bravemansgame up the straight, neither could match the relentless gallop of the leader who pulled clear for a ten-length success.
Star Gate ran second, half-a-length ahead of The Glancing Queen in third.
Bravemansgame was cut to a general 6-1 for the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in March.
Trainer Paul Nicholls was winning the Challow for the first time since Denman’s success in 2006 and had no hesitation in placing his emerging charge in the same breath.
“It was a very good performance and it’s a good race to win,” the trainer told ITV Racing. “He’s progressing nicely. He’ll follow the Denman route and go for the Ballymore before chasing.
“He’s nothing like Denman in his physique but it’s nice to mention him in the same breath. He’s every bit as good as he was at this stage. I don’t see tackling fences being a problem.”
Owned by John Dance and Bryan Drew, Bravemansgame was a £370,000 purchase through Tom Malone and Nicholls out of the Monbeg Stables draft at the 2019 Tattersalls Cheltenham Festival Sale. He was bred in France by Dr Vet M Guiot & Dr Vet B Stoffel out of the Nickname mare Genifique and is a son of Haras de Talma’s Brave Mansonnien.