Sharjah and Patrick Mullins made it a fabulous hat-trick when displaying a fantastic turn of foot in the Matheson Hurdle at Leopardstown.
Runner-up in the Champion Hurdle to Epatante in March, Sharjah has not been sent off favourite for any of his wins, remarkably.
Ridden cold by Mullins, he was dropped out right at the rear as Rachael Blackmore attempted to make all on Aspire Tower.
Saint Roi, a Willie Mullins stablemate of the winner, had no excuses on this occasion – but well-positioned by Mark Walsh, his jumping did not stand up to the test in the highest company.
Another Willie Mullins inmate, Saldier – having his first run for more than 400 days – ran well for a long way before dropping away after the last.
But Gordon Elliott’s Abacadabras disappointed and never looked like winning at any stage.
Briefly Blackmore and Aspire Tower looked as if they might have slipped the field, but Sharjah (11-2) arrived on the scene still on the bridle before quickening up to win by two lengths. Petit Mouchoir ran on for third.
Paddy Power cut the winner to 8-1 from 16s to go one better than last season in the Champion Hurdle.
“He’s some horse and he likes this track. Patrick loves riding him, and the horse responds to him,” said Willie Mullins.
“It can be very hard to ride a horse like that, the way he rides him, but he has great confidence in him.
“For a guy his size and weight, he has huge commitment. He does a lot of other work at home, running the yard as assistant trainer. He might be taking my job shortly!
“I’d imagine Sharjah will come back here for the Irish Champion Hurdle at the Dublin Racing Festival.
“He has a little bit of class about him. He was second last year in the Champion Hurdle, and might have been a little far back then.
“Saldier ran a great race on his comeback. I thought Saint Roi would finish closer – but Mark said he went for his race too early and he’d like to have sat longer.”
Patrick Mullins said: “I just love riding him. He’s so straightforward. It’s easy to ride him like that when you know the turn of foot he has.
“He gives you as much as he can on the bridle, but he is tough off it as well. He just missed the last – but for that, we might have won a shade easier.
“Dave Porter, who looks after him, was trotting him up this morning, checking him, and said he was like Jackie Chan, he was in great form.
“He was keen today, which he usually isn’t. He stayed in for the summer and didn’t get much of a break, but it hasn’t done him any harm.
“I thought we went a strong gallop there but then slowed up turning out of the back.
“My plan was to track Saint Roi because I thought he had plenty of speed and I knew if they slowed up I had plenty of speed too
“Turning in I was thinking ‘we’re not getting to Aspire Tower’ so I had to commit a little earlier than I wanted to.
“A strong-run two miles suits him, because they are coming back at him, and a slow-run two miles suits him as he has such speed. He’s a wonderful horse to ride in these races.
“He doesn’t have huge scope at his hurdles, but he’s very clever. You have to leave him alone, and he’s good at getting in tight.
“He has the odd off day, and that’s maybe why he gets forgotten about sometimes because he’s not hugely consistent.
“On his day he’s as good as any of them. Last year in the Champion Hurdle there was a big field, and we didn’t go a huge gallop.
“In a normal year with a smaller field that might put me four or five lengths closer for nothing. Would that make me win the race? You’d have to believe that.”
On riding another Grade One winner as an amateur, Mullins added: “I just like to justify my place riding those horses, obviously being the son of the boss and being an amateur.
“It’s great today, but I was raging over Melon (third in the Savills) yesterday. I felt that was one I might have left behind me, but I suppose you can’t win them all. I wish I had rolled the dice at the second last rather than playing it safe.”