Mullins six “all intended runners” in the Unibet Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown this weekend
A glittering array of talent looks set to line up in the inaugural Grade 1 hurdle of the season, with champion trainer Willie Mullins confirming that all six of his entrants “are intended runners” in Sunday’s Grade 1 Unibet Morgiana Hurdle (in memory of Michael Rafferty @AnalogsDaughtr), the feature of Punchestown’s weekend Winter Festival.
That provides the mouth-watering prospect of Closutton’s highly-touted Triumph Hurdle winner, Vauban taking on his Ballymore Novice Hurdle-winning comrade Sir Gerhard in the opening Grade 1 hurdle of the season. Mullins could also unleash the Punchestown Grade 1 Alanna Homes Champion Novice Hurdle winner State Man, with the trio all representing different owners.
As well as the young gun Vauban, the only four-year-old in the field, Rich Ricci may have his famous pink and lime green spotted colours carried by previous Unibet Morgiana Hurdle winners Saldier and Sharjah, the latter triumphing here in 2018 and 2021 and his stablemate having scored in 2019. The undoubtedly classy Vauban is embarking on a Champion Hurdle path that few Triumph Hurdle winners can navigate but Sunday’s Punchestown highlight is the obvious starting point. “We are always well represented in the Unibet Morgiana Hurdle because it comes at a perfect time in the calendar for our horses,” Mullins said. “It allows us to go on to Christmas and continue the season from there then before we come back to Punchestown in April.”
Of his runners, Mullins added: “At this stage, all six are intended runners. Vauban is an exciting prospect after his win in the Triumph Hurdle last year but it is difficult for four-year-olds to win this race. I said if we’re going to make a Champion Hurdle horse out of him then let him take on good horses in the Morgiana.
“I’m going back over hurdles with Saldier for the first time in a while, when he disappointed at Gowran Park last February and he’s bound to be a little ring rusty. “Like Saldier, Sharjah won the race before and I think the ground is going to suit him so we’re looking forward to getting his season going after missing the spring following his fourth Matheson at Leopardstown. “Sir Gerhard has been doing things right at home. I’m very happy with him, while State Man is a horse that’s been improving all through last season. If he keeps improving, he’s the right age to make it into the Champion Hurdle field.”
The Mullins sextet is completed by Echoes In Rain, herself a course and distance winner at Peerless Punchestown, having won the 2021 Grade 1 eCOMM Merchant Solutions Champion Novice Hurdle. “Echoes In Rain runs well around Punchestown. The two miles here might be a little sharp for her,” the champion trainer concluded.
The Unibet Morgiana Hurdle takes place on Sunday 20th November. Advance booking tickets with €5pp discount and free racecard are on sale until the day before your selected race meeting. There will be live music, bus transfers after racing, free kids entertainment and delicious food options across the weekend. Visit www.punchestown.com/fixtures/