The last three winners of Unibet Morgiana Hurdle will feature in the latest renewal of the Punchestown Winter Festival showpiece
Crowds will return to Grade 1 action at Punchestown for the first time since 2019 this weekend as the ever-popular two-day Winter Festival hosts the Unibet Morgiana Hurdle on Sunday.
Last year’s winner Abacadabras will try to repeat the feat, this time in front of the Punchestown public, where he will face a potential field of six select rivals following the latest forfeit stage today.
Gordon Elliott ended a nine-year Willie Mullins stranglehold on the Unibet Morgiana Hurdle last season and holds a pair of aces this time around with the highly touted four-year-old Zanahiyr joining Abacadabras in the list of acceptors.
Mullins unsurprisingly holds a strong hand in a race which he has previously won with Thousand Stars, Hurricane Fly on three occasions, Nichols Canyon, Faugheen, Sharjah, and Saldier with the most recent winning pair among his team for this weekend.
Improving mare Echoes In Rain and Stormy Ireland are in the Closutton team. Joseph O’Brien’s versatile Darasso completes the potential field.
Speaking this afternoon, Patrick Mullins commented: “Sharjah is just one step off the very, very best. He’s a proper Grade 1 horse. He won the Unibet Morgiana Hurdle before but he won it coming off winning the Galway Hurdle.
“He has a great record at Leopardstown at Christmas but he will run this weekend at Punchestown all being well and I’d expect a good performance but he will probably improve for it.”
Mullins this year won the Galway Hurdle on Saldier and of the Rich Ricci-owned seven-year-old he added:
“Saldier has had a super summer with Galway and Tipperary. He would have a fitness edge on the winter horses and he’s won this race before. We did try and step him up in trip last year and we might try that again so we’ll wait and see.
“We have also left Echoes In Rain and Stormy Ireland in the race this weekend,” Mullins confirmed.
Mullins has earmarked this weekend for the Closutton troops.
“This tends to be the start of the National Hunt season for us. We’re probably a week or 10 days off being full steam ahead as we had quite a dry autumn so we didn’t rush them but we will still be well represented because Punchestown is such a good track for getting good horses going.”
Cape Gentleman and Embittered look to be two standout performers in the Grade 2 BetVictor Casino Novice Chase on Saturday.
Cheltenham Festival hero Bob Olinger could make his eagerly anticipated debut over fences in Saturday’s opening BetVictor Loyalty Club Beginners Chase, a race won two years ago by Faugheen and last year by Asterion Forlonge.
The Grade 2 Liam & Valerie Brennan Florida Pearl Novice Chase is the chief supporting race on Sunday with Albert Bartlett winner Vanillier given an entry thereby Gavin Cromwell where he could face impressive Thurles winner Ballyshannon Rose for Paul Fahey.
On both Saturday and Sunday racing begins at 12:00 with tickets €15 and €10 for Students and OAP’s. Dine packages are available from €89.
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