Sharjah joins list of Irish greats with four-timer in Matheson Hurdle
Sharjah left it late at Leopardstown on Wednesday but the most reliable Christmas bet of recent seasons eventually delivered for his backers, edging a neck in front of Zanahiyr to win the Grade One Matheson Hurdle for the fourth time and emulate Istabraq and Hurricane Fly, two of jumping’s all-time greats, as he did so.
Sharjah was favourite for two-mile contest for the first time in his career, having started at 6-1, 9-2 and 11-2 for his three previous successes, but he was only fourth turning for home and needed some encouragement from Patrick Mullins to launch his challenge.
The final hurdle was bypassed due to the low sun and while Zanahiyr fought gamely to cling on to the lead, Sharjah responded to claim the win with a couple of strides to spare.
“That was not good for the heart,” Willie Mullins, the winner’s trainer, said. “Patrick said he wasn’t as sharp as other years and then with the last hurdle missing, he got pushed out on to yesterday’s ground and that just blunted his speed in the last furlong.
“He managed to do it anyhow and it was a terrific race. He’s been a spectacular horse, fantastic for Patrick and Rich and Susannah [Ricci, Sharjah’s owners].”
Sharjah has made four trips to the Cheltenham Festival in his career without success, although he has finished second in the last two renewals of the Champion Hurdle and was brought down at the third flight in 2019.
He has also been below his best in the last two runnings of the Irish Champion Hurdle in February and Willie Mullins may send him straight to Cheltenham this time around. “It might be the thing to do,” the trainer said, “as [the Irish Champion] doesn’t seem to work for him.”
Sharjah remains third-favourite for the Champion Hurdle at around 10-1, in a market headed by the unbeaten Honeysuckle, last year’s winner, at a top price of 4-5.
At Newbury, Stage Star extended his unbeaten record over hurdles to three races with a convincing six-and-a-half length defeat of West Balboa in the Grade One Challow Novice Hurdle. Paul Nicholls’s five-year-old was cut to around 8-1 for the Ballymore Novice Hurdle at Cheltenham in March, a race in which his stable companion, Bravemansgame, finished third last season after landing the Challow.
“We might follow the same route that Bravemansgame did last year,” Nicholls said. “He is straightforward and that was a really taking performance.
“I can’t believe how much speed he has got [and] that is by far and away the best performance he has given. All in all a great performance from a horse who is going to be a lovely chaser in time.”
Stage Star is now one of three horses at single-figure odds for the Ballymore, along with Henry de Bromhead’s Journey With Me, who readily defeated Kilcruit, one of last season’s best bumper horses, in a maiden hurdle at Leopardstown on Wednesday. Journey With Me and Sir Gerhard, last year’s Champion Bumper winner, are marginal favourites at a top price of 7-1.