Leopardstown Day 4: Sharjah fancied to make it four-in-a-row in Matheson Hurdle

Final day Grade One Leopardstown highlight brings the best out of top-flight operator

Although Sharjah may never rank in the pantheon of great hurdlers like Hurricane Fly and Istabraq he can eclipse them both on the final day of Leopardstown’s Christmas festival.

Each of the former champions feature four times on the roll of honour for the €150,000 Matheson Hurdle.

Istabraq won three-in-a-row from 1997-99 and again in 2001: in between, though, he memorably fell at the last in a race eventually won by Moscow Flyer.

Hurricane Fly scored first in 2010 but was absent the following year before completing three more victories.

In contrast Sharjah has the prospect of a seamless four-in a row in front of him in Wednesday’s Grade One highlight.

Whatever about comparison to evocative names of the past in terms of merit, or even the sort of opposition he has faced in comparison, it will be no bad boast for Willie Mullins’s star should he pull this off.

Part of the context is inevitably what many see as a lean period at the top of the hurdling tree, with the unbeaten Honeysuckle a standout exception.

Sharjah chased her home in the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham in March, the second year he filled the runner-up spot having had the thankless task of conceding weight to another mare, Epatante, in 2020.

The composition of Wednesday's race, with a trio of Mullins runners facing off against three from Gordon Elliott, also indicates an unfortunate exclusivity.

An upshot is that Sharjah has sometimes tended to be damned with faint praise which hardly does justice to a top-flight operator with two Morgiana Hurdle victories and a Galway Hurdle success off topweight on his CV too.

However it is Leopardstown’s inner track at this time of year that appears to bring the best out of him.

Once again Patrick Mullins is likely to be playing his cards late and using that potent late kick that last year put some rivals with big reputations in their place.

He has never before started favourite for the Matheson but is set to do so this time on the back of also using that kick to beat Zanahiyr and Echoes Of Rain in the Morgiana last month.

That race set up for Sharjah with a sedate tempo particularly against Echoes In Rain. The presence of the 2016 winner Petit Mouchoir might mean that is not the case this time and she does get the vital 7lbs sex allowance.

Another of Sharjah’s stable-mates, Saint Roi, started favourite with a big reputation in this race a year ago but managed only fourth.

Nevertheless it could be Zanahiyr who emerges as the biggest threat of all in a potentially tactical affair. Rarely though has the ‘horses for courses’ theory applied more than it does to Sharjah here.

Watered ground

Wednesday’s other Grade One is the Neville Hotels Novice Chase where a major factor could be which of the eight runners appreciates watered ground the most, or at least copes with it best.

Run Wild Fred landed the Troytown in impressive fashion on a decent surface on what was his ninth start over fences. Talented as he is, coming here on the back of a major handicap win is hardly the sort of profile with a potential top-notcher.

Ontheropes was only fourth on a decent surface in the Ladbrokes at Newbury so the solution could prove to be Grade One hurdles winners Vanillier, who can operate best in the conditions.

On reputation alone, Wednesday’s maiden hurdle could shape up better than some Black Type races.

Journey With Me is highly regarded by the Henry de Bromhead team on the back of an impressive bumper success last season, while Dermot Weld gives his Chester Cup winner Falcon Eight a first start over flights.

Much of it though looks to revolve around last season’s top-bumper horse Kilcruit.

His defeat at eye-watering odds of 1-4 at Cork earlier this month was a shock and the horse that beat him, Largy Debut, hardly boosted the form with a flop in Grade One company on Monday.

Upped half a mile in trip, a much more potent Kilcruit may emerge.

Shewearsitwell is Paul Townend’s pick from four in the mares’ hurdle while The Nice Guy’s debut success reads best in the bumper.

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