Cheltenham run not completely dismissed for Stage Star

Connections of Stage Star have not ruled out the possibility of heading to the Cheltenham Festival, despite trainer Paul Nicholls initially expressing his reservations.

Stage Star was trimmed by Paddy Power to 8-1 (from 20) for the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle after powering to a six-and-a-half-length victory over West Balboa in the Challow Hurdle at Newbury last week.

Having taken his unbeaten run to three over hurdles, Nicholls felt that Stage Star could bypass Cheltenham and head to Aintree, saying: “I’m not afraid to wait for Aintree with him. The most exciting thing about this horse was when he started jumping fences last year, as Bravemansgame did, and hopefully we will follow the same route.”

However, Dan Downie, racing manager to the Owners Group partnership to whom the horse belongs, admits the door remains open.

He said: “It was a really good performance. He is very exciting. We obviously really always liked him, but they need to prove it on the track and we were delighted with his display at Newbury – he was very impressive.

“I think Paul wants to go down the Bravemansgame route with him. It looks like that and makes perfect sense.

“He has taken the race well and we are delighted with him. It will be a case of assessing and seeing what the entries are at Cheltenham.

“Paul has said he would not be keen to go to Cheltenham with him, unless he really felt he was going to be very competitive. We have to see what the Irish send, and so on.

“There is an outside possibility he will go there and he’ll have an entry, I’m sure.

“That will likely be in the two-miles-and-five-furlongs Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle, I’d imagine, but I wouldn’t rule anything out. I don’t think he is short of pace, but that is something Paul would need to think about.”

After his clear-cut Newbury success, Coral chopped Stage Star from 16-1 to 8-1 for the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in March, and he is 14-1 with the same firm for the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle and 25-1 for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.

Downie added: “I’d say it is unlikely he will go for the three-mile race (Albert Bartlett), but it wouldn’t come as a total shock if he gave him an entry in the two-mile Supreme Novices’ Hurdle as well. But it will be a case of seeing nearer the time.

“When they are talented like that, it is sometimes difficult because they are probably good over various trips because their class gets them through.”

Downie feels that Stage Star has the potential to become the best horse the highly successful Owners Group syndicates have owned.

Pentland Hills was a dual Grade One-winning hurdler for the Owners Group
Pentland Hills was a dual Grade One-winning hurdler for the Owners Group (David Davies/PA)

He added: “Pentland Hills, who won the Triumph Hurdle and the Anniversary 4-Y-O Juvenile Hurdle at Aintree, was very good, but Stage Star, you’d think in terms of longevity and terms of being a future chaser, is potentially more exciting.

“You just don’t know, but after Pentland Hills, he is the only other Grade One winner and we’re looking forward to some more great days with him.”

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