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Sharjah to shine brightest in Morgiana

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Saldier, ridden by jockey Patrick Mullins, celebrates after winning the Guinness Galway Hurdle Handicap during day four of the Galway Festival. Sharjah, Saldier and Abacadabdras, the last three winners of the Unibet Morgiana Hurdle, are all among seven remaining confirmations for Sunday's Grade One at Punchestown. Photo: PA Photo

Saldier, ridden by jockey Patrick Mullins, celebrates after winning the Guinness Galway Hurdle Handicap during day four of the Galway Festival. Sharjah, Saldier and Abacadabdras, the last three winners of the Unibet Morgiana Hurdle, are all among seven remaining confirmations for Sunday's Grade One at Punchestown. Photo: PA Photo

Saldier, ridden by jockey Patrick Mullins, celebrates after winning the Guinness Galway Hurdle Handicap during day four of the Galway Festival. Sharjah, Saldier and Abacadabdras, the last three winners of the Unibet Morgiana Hurdle, are all among seven remaining confirmations for Sunday's Grade One at Punchestown. Photo: PA Photo

His monopoly on the Morgiana Hurdle (2.05) was ended last year, but Willie Mullins has no intention of letting lightning strike again tomorrow as he sends a star-studded pair in search of the €100,000 Punchestown pot.

Mullins had farmed the Grade One until his great rival Gordon Elliott broke the nine-in-a-row streak with Abacadabras last year and the pair will duke it out once again at the Kildare track in a fascinating renewal.

Sharjah, twice second in the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham (2020-'21), landed this prize three years ago and makes his seasonal reappearance under Patrick Mullins with race fitness a slight concern for punters.

The other Closutton runner is totally unexposed with Echoes In Rain rounding off last season in resounding fashion to take the Champion Novice Hurdle at Punchestown and Mullins is eyeing even bigger things for the mare.

The Champion Hurdle is her long-term target at this early stage of the season, but Sen O'Keeffe's mount is woefully short at the head of the betting given the level of competition she faces and her inexperience against some seasoned campaigners.

Abacadabras is back for more after a dramatic success 12 months ago, but he did so with a run under his belt while Bryan Cooper doesn't have the same luxury this time around. The opposite is the case for Cullentra stablemate Zanahiyr, however. Davy Russell's mount excelled in the Grade Two WKD Hurdle at Down Royal two weeks ago, but stepping into open company is a stiff task for the four-year-old and this may go the way of the under-rated Sharjah.

Sharjah rarely gets the credit he deserves despite being a four-time Grade One winner and while the lack of a recent run is a worry, he overcame that obstacle to land his third Matheson Hurdle last Christmas and good ground will be to his liking.

The Grade Two Liam & Valerie Brennan Florida Pearl Novice Chase (12.30) is another quality affair as Albert Bartlett Hurdle winner Vanillier looks to get off the mark over fences at the second time of asking. There was a lot to like about his debut effort over the larger obstacles when third in a hot event at Down Royal and Gavin Cromwell's grey should revel in the extra three furlongs under Keith Donoghue as stamina is his forté.

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Mullins has landed five of the last six renewals of the Listed Frontline Security Grabel Mares Hurdle (1.30), but most eyes are fixed elsewhere this time around as two recent Cheltenham Festival winners collide. Henry de Bromhead's Telmesomethinggirl bagged the Mares' Novices Hurdle while Paul Hennessy's Heaven Help Us turned the Coral Cup into a procession so this contest is a little out of the ordinary.

Throw the 138-rated Royal Kahala and the exciting Mullins pair of Gauloise and Dysart Diamond into the mix and it's the race of the weekend with the latter given the each-way nod as she arrives here fighting fit.

Brian Hayes could have a field day at Cork tomorrow where Mullins' impressive bumper scorer Minella Cocooner should take the maiden hurdle (12.20) while he also teams up with Emmet Mullins' Noble Yeats with the pair holding big claims in the Mallow Handicap Chase (2.30).

De Bromhead unleashes Ballymore Novices' Hurdle winner Bob Olinger over fences in the opening beginners chase (12.0) at Punchestown today while the Grade Two Novice Chase (12.38) sees race conditions in favour of Riviere D'etel with Elliott's four-year-old mare receiving 18lbs from Cape Gentleman and Embittered and that tips the balance in favour of Denis O'Regan's mount.


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