Stage Star puts his unbeaten record over hurdles on the line when he takes on six rivals in the MansionBet Challow Novices’ Hurdle at Newbury on Wednesday.
The Paul Nicholls-trained five-year-old bids for a hat-trick of hurdle victories in the Grade One event run over an extended two and a half miles.
Stage Star was a bumper winner on debut last October and went on to produce two placed efforts in National Hunt Flat contests at Listed and Grade Two level, races that proved a springboard to his successful hurdling bow at Chepstow in October this year.
A second comfortable win over course and distance at Newbury last month also ended in victory, by seven and a half lengths in a competitive novice event.
Dan Downie, racing manager to the Owners Group partnership to whom the horse belongs says he is “excited” by the prospect of Stage Star bidding to land the race which has been won in the recent past by quality performers such as Bravemansgame, Thyme Hill and Champ.
Downie said: “He has won over course and distance and this was a race that Paul wanted to target before he ran at Newbury, so it was not plucked out of thin air. He thinks he is a horse with plenty of talent and he is taking his races better this year.
“We have always liked him and he has always schooled really well. We always felt he would make up into a decent hurdler and hopefully a chaser. He’s done nothing wrong.
“He looked like he was going to get really involved in the Aintree bumper last season, but he weakened to finish third and was perhaps a bit weak last season. He has always been a horse who would benefit from time.
“We are all very happy with him – he has delighted us since his last run and the time off in between races should suit him. We are excited about it.”
Stage Star’s rivals include Lossiemouth, who is on a four-timer.
The Tom Lacey-trained six-year-old completed a hat-trick when taking the Grade Two Winter Novices’ Hurdle at Sandown by 14 lengths under Welsh National-winning rider Stan Sheppard, who retains the partnership.
“It’s very exciting to be riding a horse which should have a very good chance,” said Sheppard.
“I think he is just behind Stage Star in the betting so he goes there with a competitive chance and hopefully he can do it again.”
Lossiemouth has won five of his 10 starts and in his last three races has climbed from a handicap mark of 117 to 144.
“His win at Sandown was my first at Grade Two level,” said Sheppard.
“It was only my second winner on ITV so it was a pretty big day. Winning the Welsh National was massive too. My career is going very well at the moment. If I could win the Challow it would be Tom’s first Grade One as well, so we would both be very happy.
“Lossiemouth seems to have got his act together now. He won two bumpers and then the wheels fell off a bit. Now he seems to be very well in himself again and getting things right.
“I think he is a horse who needs soft ground and has got a lot better since blinkers were put on. For his first win at Ascot he only had cheek pieces on, then he had blinkers on and they have worked each time.”
Irish interest centres on Gringo D’aubrelle, with Gordon Elliott stepping the five-year-old up in trip after narrowly taking a two-mile Fairyhouse maiden hurdle last time.
Dan Skelton pitches five-year-old West Balboa into top-class company after landing a Warwick mares’ novice hurdle by 17 lengths on her hurdling debut, while Ian Williams will hope Party Business can follow up his impressive win at Ascot.
The Olly Murphy-trained Go Dante and Warren Greatrex’s High Stakes, who both finished second on their respective runs last time out, round out the field.
The Follow @mansionbetrace on Twitter Mandarin Handicap Chase has attracted a field of 14 with the Gary Moore-trained six-year-old Full Back heading the weights after finishing eighth in the Grade Three Ladbrokes Trophy.
He takes on the likes of Saint Palais, who is on a hat-trick for trainer Richard Bandey following two victories in his first two runs this season at Worcester and Wetherby. The the only four-year-old in the race, he is in receipt of 9lb from Full Back.
They are joined by the likes of the David Pipe-trained Gericault Roque, a twice-beaten favourite on each of his first two starts over fences, and the Jonjo O’Neill-trained Cobolobo, who was eighth in the Becher Chase at Aintree on his seasonal bow.