Sharjah is the standout runner as Gowran Park plays host to RED MILLS Day, with the Grade 2 RED MILLS Chase and Grade 3 RED MILLS Trial Hurdle the feature events on Saturday.
The expected large attendance, all of whom will have gained entry free of charge courtesy of a RED MILLS promotion in recent weeks, will be treated to the presence of the 158-rated gelding, a six-time Grade 1 winner who has been placed twice in the Cheltenham Champion Hurdle. Sharjah has claimed the scalps of some of the leading two-mile hurdlers of the past five years, going back to his defeat of Faugheen in the 2018 Morgiana Hurdle.
The now ten-year-old added a second Morgiana in 2021 but the highlight of his resumé is his domination of the Matheson Hurdle from 2018 to 2021 inclusive. Rich Ricci’s son of Doctor Dino, who is trained by Willie Mullins, was last seen finishing third to State Man as he bid for an historic fifth straight Matheson at Leopardstown last Christmas.
Patrick Mullins, son and assistant to the champion trainer, as well as the record-breaking champion amateur rider, continues his fruitful partnership with Sharjah, having been on board for all bar one of his top-tier triumphs.
“We skipped DRF as he doesn’t seem to run well there so this seems like a good opportunity for him,” said Mullins today. “This is his first time to run below Grade 1 level over hurdles since 2018 so he should enjoy the drop in class. Obviously, he’s got all the penalties and I’d like to think he should be very hard to beat.
“I think the ground will really suit him. Normally we wouldn’t go to Gowran with him at this time as it’s usually soft ground but it’s dry so that will suit. Hopefully he can do the business and win a race as prestigious as the RED MILLS Trial Hurdle. It’s a big local race for us and I’m delighted to be riding in it.”
Willie Mullins has won the RED MILLS Trial Hurdle six times but faces strong opposition pursuing a seventh success, with the Gordon Elliott/Caldwell Construction duo, Fil Dor – the Triumph Hurdle runner-up stepping back to the smaller obstacles after going novice chasing – and the progressive Doctor Bravo leading the way. Takarengo (Tom Mullins), Da Capo Glory (Pádraig Butler) and Jimli’s Glory (Keith Watson) complete the field.
Willie Mullins fields three of the five horses declared for the Grade 2 RED MILLS Chase, with Grade 1 winners Capodanno, ridden by Jody McGarvey, and Janidil, who will be partnered by Rachael Blackmore, making their belated seasonal debuts. Paul Townend will be legged up on another Grade 1 victor Haut En Couleurs, who fell at the last when leading Fakir D’oudairies by two lengths in January.
“It’ll be a good trial for Cheltenham,” said Willie Mullins earlier this week. “They’re sort of Ryanair horses so it’ll be interesting to see how they go in the RED MILLS Chase.
“It’s a great opportunity for them with Allaho out and will answer a lot of questions for us.”
Gordon Elliott saddles Battleoverdoyen while JP McManus, owner of Capodanno and Janidil, will have a third contestant in Darasso.
The Joseph O’Brien-trained ten-year-old has proved extremely versatile and consistent at this level over the years, winning seven times over hurdles, including in the RED MILLS Trial Hurdle in 2019, and five times over fences. In all he has accumulated five graded victories.