Supporting actor lands all the plaudits yet again

In the preceding offering on these pages mention was afforded to the wonderful renewal of the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham in 2005. In no way was Hardy Eustace a back number – he could hardly be having won it the previous season – but, for whatever reason, the vast majority of the debate and rancor in the lead up to the race was around Brave Inca and Harchibald.

If horses can read humans, Willie Mullins’s Sharjah will surely understand. It is important to make the distinction about the trainer in this instance, as there is another talented steed of the same name trained by Andy Slattery.

Rich Ricci’s version, though, must be the most overlooked, under-appreciated horses in training anywhere. That probably stems from an almost disrespectful undervaluation of horses that win handicaps. Even if they go on to achieve greatness thereafter.

It’s worth remembering that a horse as good as Pique Sous gained his first career victory at Kilbeggan. So why exactly Sharjah is generally an after thought having won the Galway Hurdle, at an unconsidered 20/1, is hard to figure.

Sharjah and Patrick Mullins

That may, in one sense, be down to the amount of competition he faces from within his own residence alone. To that end, this year’s Matheson Hurdle at Leopardstown was no different. Contemporaries such as Saldier and Saint Roi would have been higher on most shortlists than the trainer’s son’s mount.

In the case of the former because the other Ricci representative was, in fact, the choice of stable jockey Paul Townend while the latter has been something of a ‘talking horse’ from the time he won at the Cheltenham Festival last March. Even though, ironically, that win came in a handicap.

So far, however, the gelding has greatly disappointed. Or, perhaps it’s a case, more likely, of a horse being completely over-hyped comparative to what he has actually achieved. Bullish talk relating to other Mullins representatives would appear to be on the money however given that the other hotpots – Monkfish and Concertista and Stattler – all fulfilled their parts on the script perfectly.

Away from Leopardstown, this writer’s soft spot for the Hunter Chase/Cross Country division was well placated with the convincing victory of Staker Wallace, trained by the master of such things, Enda Bolger at today’s re-arranged Limerick fixture. Chances are the 9-year-old will now assume the mantle as the preeminent competitor for Howardstown House in that arena going forward to the Spring Festivals.

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