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The latest clue ahead of next year’s Champion Hurdle emerged in Ireland on Sunday. The feature race on day one of the Cheltenham Festival 2022 is shaping up to be a battle for second behind the incredible Honeysuckle, who romped to last season’s title in comfortable fashion and is unbeaten in 12 runs over flights.
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A three-runner field lined up for the Grade 1 Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown and it was SHARJAH who claimed a comfortable victory. The runner-up in the last two renewals of the Champion Hurdle climbed to second in our antepost betting market off the back of the victory.
All of the hype heading into the race was focused on ECHOES IN RAIN but Willie Mullins’ promising mare failed to get into the swing of things as stablemate Sharjah stalked ZANAHIYR before pulling clear at the last to score by 3l.
While he’s hardly a superstar of the National Hunt game, it was Sharjah’s fifth Grade 1 success in Ireland and the nine-year-old was a model of consistency last term.
Paddy’s traders reacted to the Morgiana Hurdle success by halving Sharjah’s odds but Mullins admitted the presence of Honeysuckle looms large.
Asked if Sharjah has the quality to win the Champion Hurdle, the trainer said: “I suppose there’s Honeysuckle getting in the way but who knows what’s going to happen or who’ll be around come Cheltenham?”
Echoes In Rain was a 10/1 shot for the Champion Hurdle 2022 but her price has drifted as a result of her disappointing showing.
Mullins said: “They went a bit too slow for the filly. She was too buzzy and didn’t jump well enough at that slow pace. She has a lot of improvement to do, but hopefully she will improve.”
Zanahiyr’s price for the Champion Hurdle, meanwhile, was trimmed after a respectable display on his first run in open Grade 1 company.
Trainer Gordon Elliott said: “It was a bit of a sprint and he needs a faster gallop – he’s a big, idle horse – but I thought it was a good run. It could possibly have been a career best. He was beaten by a very good horse and had no excuses.”
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