Sharjah bids to join legendary names with five in a row in Grade One Leopardstown highlight

Limerick festival strikes a bum note with just two horses lining up for €36,500 Grade Two feature

Such is Sharjah’s status as a Leopardstown Christmas staple that he has shot at joining some of the greatest names in the sport’s history on Thursday.

Whatever “Twixmas” circumstances align around Foxrock seem to transform Willie Mullins’s star into an unbeatable proposition in the festival’s final day feature.

For the last four years he has turned the Grade One Matheson Hurdle into his own personal preserve.

Consistently failing to replicate such form just a few weeks later in the Irish Champion Hurdle only underlines how Leopardstown’s inner track at this time of year turns Sharjah into a real top-notcher.


The upshot is a remarkable top-flight five-timer is in his sights, an accomplishment only a few of the true greats have managed.

Kauto Star pulled off five wins in the King George VI Chase. Hurricane Fly did five in a row in the Irish Champion Hurdle. The legendary Golden Miller’s handful of Gold Cup victories in the 1930s remains a feat even Arkle couldn’t manage.

No one suggests Sharjah is a comfortable fit in such elite company but victory on Thursday will still put a seal on a thoroughly admirable career of top-class competition.

This is after all a horse that has twice finished runner-up in the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham, boasts a pair of Morgiana victories, as well as a Galway Hurdle.

Once again Patrick Mullins takes the reins in a race where yet again Sharjah goes relatively under the radar compared to a more high-profile stable companion.

Two years ago, it was St ROI; the year before Klassical Dream. Now it is State Man, a smooth four-length winner over Sharjah in last month’s Morgiana and currently the horse bookmakers reckon is the most likely to put up even a semblance of a challenge to Constitution Hill at Cheltenham.

The form line from Punchestown is hard to argue with but then so is Sharjah’s record in this race.

The four-year-old stars Vauban and Pied Piper face a big challenge on official figures but are open to any kind of improvement.

State Man still looks open to significant improvement, too, and that could ultimately prove crucial against his stalwart stable companion.

Leopardstown’s other final day Grade One is the Neville Hotels Novice Chase where Gordon Elliott has two chances to maintain his excellent race record.

Elliott has won it in five of the last seven years and despite declaring Mighty Potter in error looks to have a ready-made replacement candidate in Three Stripe Life.

The latter started favourite for the Drinmore, won by Mighty Potter, only to make a bad blunder at the eighth which forced Davy Russell to pull up after losing an iron.

Jack Kennedy will ride the Grade One-winning hurdler for just the second time on Thursday and Three Stripe Life looks to hold enough quality to join both Mighty Potter and Gerri Colombe as top-flight novice novices for Elliott already this season.

Gaillard Du Mesnil chased home Mighty Potter in the Drinmore but has yet to win in six starts over fences.

Elliott and Mullins look set to go head-to-head again in the Grade Three mares hurdle where the interim two-and-a half mile trip could swing things the way of Queens Brook. Mullins’s Shewearsitwell looked to need all of the three miles to win last time.

Limerick’s festival also winds up on Thursday and does so on a bum note in the featured Grade Two Coolmore Hurdle.

The high class four-year-old race won by Teahupoo a year ago, and by the subsequent Champion Hurdle winner Espoir D’allen in 2018, has been reduced to a match.

The Cheltenham Festival winner Brazil looks to have a “penalty kick” against his only rival No Looking Back.

The latter’s name mightn’t now be the most appropriate sentiment for various rueful connections who nevertheless spurned lining up for a prize fund of €36,500 when they had the chance.

Such prize money doesn’t appear to have been much of a factor in an embarrassing turnout for both Limerick and the sponsors.

Mark Walsh goes to Limerick for Brazil and also looks to have good chances for JP McManus on Splashing Out and Sir Bob in the opening handicap chase.

The Paddy Power Chase winning team of Eric and Conor McNamara are on home ground for the novice handicap chase where testing going should be no trouble to My Friend The Wind.

Buddy One belied 250-1 odds on his last start in a decent maiden at Navan and should figure prominently in a maiden for horses that have never been placed before.

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor is the racing correspondent of The Irish Times. He also writes the Tipping Point column