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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 (@AnaglogsDaughtr in memory of Michael Rafferty), 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.
Gordon Elliott, the only trainer who has managed to prise the Unibet Morgiana Hurdle away from Willie Mullins since 2011, will bid to do so for the second time in three years as Teahupoo is his representative this time around.
Noel Meade supplies the other challenger in Jesse Evans, who looks to be an upward curve in the hurdling ranks having taken Grade 3 honours on his most recent outing over obstacles. Meade’s name is also scattered on the Unibet Hurdle Morgiana Hurdle roll of honour courtesy of the likes of Harchibald, Iktitaf and Jazz Messenger.
Sunday’s feature race title includes the Twitter handle @AnaglogsDaughtr, which is likely to be familiar to entire racing community who use the social media platform. Louth native, Michael Rafferty was the man behind the @AnaglogsDaughtr account, named after his favourite racehorse and on which as he shared wonderful horse racing pictures to his loyal followers. Michael passed away earlier this year and will be remembered fondly at Punchestown.
Ed Nicholson of Unibet said on Tuesday: “This Sunday we remember Michael Rafferty, the man behind the much-loved racing nostalgia Twitter account @AnaglogsDaughtr, who died peacefully in June this year. For years, Michael didn’t venture too far from his home in Ardee, crippled as he was with dilapidating illness. During this time his connection with the outside world came solely through a twitter account named after his favourite racehorse, Anaglogs Daughter.
“His unique posts, pictures and memories engaged a community of racing enthusiasts. It was through this account and a mention of the Unibet Morgiana that we eventually managed to entice Michael to leave the house and visit Punchestown as a guest. It was a turning point for Michael and his family and an occasion that we shared on a few precious occasions. I’m sure Michael is a man who would have very much appreciated the high quality horses entered this Sunday.”
Amirite, Final Orders and Thedevilscoachman are three of the nine entries for Sunday’s Grade 2 Liam & Valerie Brennan Novice Chase.
Amirite opened his account over fences at Fairyhouse recently, while Final Orders has continued through the ranks to win at Down Royal earlier this month.
Noel Meade’s Thedevilscoachman brings Grade 2 winning form to the table from last season and made the ideal start to his chasing career at Galway last month.
Irish Grand National runner-up Frontal Assault and Grade 1 novice hurdle runner-up Minella Crooner give Gordon Elliott a strong hand in the Grade 2 novice chase on a brilliant weekend of racing action at the Kildare track.
Fresh from his Grade 3 Buck House Novice Chase win at Punchestown, the Willie Mullins-trained Adamantly Chosen could take on Gordon Elliott’s Grade 1 Bective Stud Champion Novice Hurdle winner Mighty Potter in the Grade 2 Oak Lodge Landscapes Novice Chase.
The 144-rated Queens Brook heads the nine entries for the Frontline Security Mares Hurdle also on Saturday.