Sharjah ran out an impressive winner of the Matheson Hurdle for the second successive year at Leopardstown.
The victory means Willie Mullins has now won the Grade One seven times in the last 10 years – but the champion trainer will have been left scratching his head after his apparent first string Klassical Dream finished last of the five runners.
Last season’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle hero was bounding along merrily at the head of affairs with Petit Mouchoir, winner of the race in 2016, when he made a jolting error at halfway – almost coming down.
Paul Townend allowed him time to regain composure before trying to get involved in the race once more – but soon after turning into the straight, it was obvious his race was run and he was eased heavily.
Petit Mouchoir kept up the gallop, but Patrick Mullins loomed up cruising on his outside – and as soon as the button was pressed, the race was over.
The 9-2 chance sprinted three and three-quarter lengths clear and saw his Champion Hurdle odds slashed to 14-1 from 25s by Betfair, who also shortened up impressive Christmas Hurdle winner Epatante to 5-2 from 7-2.
“He was good. Klassical Dream and Petit Mouchoir went at it, and I think Klassical Dream probably just couldn’t go the pace,” said the winning trainer.
“When he took off at that hurdle down the back I just took down my binoculars, because I thought he wouldn’t even make the hurdle.
“I don’t know how he got over it. He seems fine – but I’d imagine he’s going to be very stiff in the morning with his hips or pelvis, or whatever. He dragged his hind legs through.
“Paul got him back into the race, but that effort had taken too much out of him.”
While it was a tale of woe for Klassical Dream, everything went smoothly for Sharjah.
Mullins added: “I could see Patrick really content on Sharjah, the way he was sitting all the time, but then when Klassical Dream came up his outside I thought he was going to bring him into the race too quickly.
“But what could he do, Patrick had to go with him. I’m sure he didn’t want to challenge until much later and use his speed – but he ended up having to go with Petit Mouchoir down to the last, but then he got away from him.
“Ruby (Walsh) was reminding me there that if he hadn’t been brought down last year he might have been second or third in the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham. He’s a good horse on nice ground.
“It’s all to play for, and he’s improving away. He could come back here in February – we’ll have a chat with Rich and Susannah (Ricci, owners) and see what they want to do.
“Patrick gets on with the horse and knows him really well, so he might have an opinion about it too. We have a lot of opinions around our horses now, with David Casey and Ruby Walsh and everyone!
“It’s good to get everyone’s opinion about where we should go. We could put him away as well – but there is a nice prize here at the Dublin Racing Festival, and we’ll see how he comes out of this.”
He added: “There was hardly a blow out of him there. Klassical Dream is blowing hard and he’s going to improve – he’ll have to improve on that, but I think the improvement is still there.
“Just at this stage of his career against these horses, he’s going to want much softer ground. The ground was too good.
“It was a good run too from Aramon for the new syndicate, and he’s probably going to aim a bit lower on better ground, and we might look at a Flat campaign for him as well.”
Reflecting on a nixed few days, Mullins said: “We had a nice Christmas, probably not vintage but any time you win a few Grade Ones and get other winners it has to be good.
“I always say a winner a day is good – and if we get more, all well and good. We’ve had ups and down but are happy enough.
“We had a few disappointments. Even Franco De Port down in Limerick today, I think he is a real good horse, but I hope we’ll get another day to show him off.”