Sharjah swoops to Ryanair Hurdle as Samcro fails to fire
Elliott’s prodigy beaten again over two miles as Willie Mullins scores at Leopardstown
Sharjah jumps ahead of Samcro en-route to victory ar Leopardstown. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA
The Samcro bubble looked to get comprehensively burst at Leopardstown on Saturday as racing’s one-time great white hope struggled home a poor fifth in the Ryanair Hurdle behind the surprise winner Sharjah.
Despite two defeats already this season Samcro started 6-4 favourite to rejuvenate his Champion Hurdle claims in a Grade One contest sponsored by his owner, Ryanair boss, Michael O’Leary.
However after looming up beside his effective pacemaker, the 66-1 outsider Tombstone, early in the straight, Samcro quickly faded under pressure from jockey Jack Kennedy.
That Tombstone could plug on well enough to finish third emphasised how quickly the favourite cut out and on this display subsequent 20-1 quotes for the Champion Hurdle hardly smack of generosity.
“There’s something wrong with him – he can’t beat Tombstone. There’s something clearly wrong with him as I thought he was cruising turning for home and he hadn’t even come off the bridle. He went from cruising to nothing within 20 strides,” O’Leary said afterwards.
“The horse just fell in a hole. He didn’t battle; unless he’s one of these horses who did it all too easy as a novice and can’t do it now against the big boys, which is a possibility. But we’d be more inclined to think there’s something wrong with him.
“Unless we can find something he won’t run again this year and we’d put him away until next season and go chasing with him,” he added.
In contrast Sharjah is almost half those odds to dethrone Buveur D’Air at Cheltenham in March after bagging a second Grade One triumph to add to last month’s Morgiana.
Overlooked by Ruby Walsh in favour of Melon, Sharjah was reunited with top amateur Patrick Mullins who was also on board when the partnership looked to throw away a certain Grade One success with a final flight fall at last year’s Christmas festival.
If that mishap briefly looked to put Sharjah’s career in reverse, teaming up with Mullins again to win the Galway Hurdle during the summer signalled a horse returning to form.
That he has now firmly put himself in the Champion Hurdle picture indicates a horse rapidly on the upgrade and one capable of moving from last to first to win a competitive top-flight race in style.
The 6-1 shot ultimately proved almost four lengths too good for Supasundae with Melon managing only fourth.
Supasundae’s lack of instant acceleration on the quick conditions left him looking a little unlucky as on a couple of occasions he didn’t get a clear run between the last two flights.
However Sharjah’s success was authoritative as he quickened up again after steadying into the final flight.
“He’s a horse that’s been very good to me and it’s great to win a Grade One,” Patrick Mullins said. “The plan was to take our time behind the three big boys and he quickened up well.”
Sharjah had an edge on race-fitness over his stable companion Melon but despite that Willie Mullins looks to have another proper Champion Hurdle shot in to his bow alongside Laurina.
“He might just go straight there. We normally get nice ground in Cheltenham. The ground is crucial to him. It made all the difference. Patrick said he’s so good on the ground.
“He looks to be an improving horse. He’s only five, he’s a very young horse and improving all the time.
“People were maybe surprised he beat Faugheen in the Morgiana but when you go back and bring that form into it, it did give him a chance. I think it’s fair to say though he has improved more than I anticipated he would,” Mullins Snr said.
Considering he was also surprised by Kemboy’s Savills Chase success it’s been a good Christmas campaign for Mullins.
Even though he admitted to some concerns with his team during the middle of the holiday period, a Leopardstown hat-trick on Saturday brought his Christmas haul for the four days to 10 winners between here and Limerick.
Good Thyne Tara was another to surprise the champion trainer by leading home a Mullins clean sweep in the Grade Three Advent Mares Hurdle.
“It was a big surprise to me. I didn’t think she was up to that standard. But the more she does, the more she improves. She’s probably a little better than a lot of them on his ground,” he said.
Castlebawn West initiated the Mullins three-timer in a maiden hurdle but the odds-on Mt Leinster managed only third in the bumper behind the shock 33-1 winner Benruben. It was a third bumper win of the week at Leopardstown for jockey Finny Maguire.
Gordon Elliott and the Gigginstown team were understandably left deflated by Samcro’s eclipse but they had earlier enjoyed top-flight success with Delta Work who was cut to 6-1 for Cheltenham’s RSA after making it back to back Grade One victories in the Neville Hotels Novice Chase.
Ben Dundee’s fifth fence exit left Moonshine Bay the only one of the six remaining runners not in Gigginstown Stud’s maroon colours and he couldn’t prevent Michael O’Leary’s team filling the frame.
Mortal’s final fence blunder helped settle the issue for the 8-15 favourite who’d overcome his own last fence mistake in the Drinmore at Fairyhouse earlier in the month.
“Davy (Russell) said he’s gone very idle and wasn’t doing a whole lot from the second last until after the last when he gave him a thump. He said the ground was as quick as he wanted it.
“I put the hood on him and he’s actually gone very relaxed now which is great. We were lucky Joseph’s horse (Mortal) made a mistake at the last but Davy was happy enough he still had plenty left in the tank.
“I’d imagine he’ll come back here (Dublin Racing Festival) That looks the obvious route and I’d imagine he’ll go down the RSA Chase road,” said trainer Gordon Elliott.