Sharjah strikes Morgiana gold as Faugheen has to settle for second

Sharjah turned over stablemate and favourite Faugheen to cause a minor surprise in the Unibet Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown.

With the morning withdrawal of Supasundae and the late defection of Samcro, former champion hurdler Faugheen appeared to face a straightforward task.

Ruby Walsh set out to make all on 2-5 shot Faugheen, who was last seen winning over three miles at Punchestown and was dropping back to two this time.

Rachael Blackmore kept him honest on Tombstone, the only one of the four eventual runners not trained by Willie Mullins, but he dropped away before the turn into the straight.

Just when Faugheen looked set to go clear though, Sharjah, a Galway Hurdle winner but beaten behind Bedrock and Samcro at Down Royal, cruised past him.

Paul Townend rode the 7-2 shot out to win by seven and a half lengths.

Townend said: “That was pretty straightforward for a Grade One.

“I travelled well the whole way, got the feeling Ruby was in a bit of trouble when I was still doing it well and I had fitness on my side.

“The ease of the win surprised me a bit, but he promised to win a big one a few times last season. I wouldn’t write Faugheen off.”

Both Sharjah and Faugheen are owned by Rich Ricci.

Mullins said: “The other two took each other on in front and maybe galloped each other into the ground. Paul took advantage of that.

“He wants a sharp two miles. He’s done a lot for the season and I don’t know if I’m going to go on with him now or not.

“I may give him a little break and come back in the spring, but after doing that today, it looks like we’ll have to go to Christmas (Leopardstown) with him.

“We’ll see how he is when he comes out of this race. He’s had no break between Flat racing and the Galway Hurdle and everything.

“Paul said he came alive going down the back stretch today and he thought that far out that he had a great chance of winning.

“He disappointed in Down Royal the last day, but he was taken on in front.”

Of Faugheen, Mullins added: “Faugheen missed two or three hurdles. I would have expected him to find a bit more, but he didn’t. The two in front just collapsed.

“The decision is made to stay hurdling and I think we’ll just go out in trip as we had intended. His first run was supposed to be the Hatton’s Grace, but when Melon didn’t work well enough we put this fella in. We’ve swapped targets for them.”