Stage Star eyeing leading role on New Year’s Day

Stage Star will seek more Cheltenham glory when he returns to the scene of some of his finest triumphs on New Year’s Day.

Connections did have the option of Leopardstown’s Savills Chase for a festive outing, with Lingfield’s £165,000 Fleur de Lys Chase at the end of January another possibility ahead of a tilt at the Ryanair in the spring.

However, the decision has been made for the Paul Nicholls-trained seven-year-old to kick off 2024 back at Prestbury Park – the place where he supplemented his Tutners Novices’ Chase win at the Cheltenham Festival with a thrilling Paddy Power Gold Cup victory on reappearance.

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He lumped a hefty burden to success on that occasion and will be tasked with a similar weight-carrying assignment when lining-up in the Paddy Power New Year’s Day Handicap Chase worth £100,000.

“We decided against Ireland in the end and we’re going to run him at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day in the handicap,” said Owners Group’s Dan Downie.

“He will carry top-weight obviously, but it is a trip we know he operates over and a track he loves. It means we don’t have to travel all the way over there (to Ireland) and we thought it made sense.”

The Owners Group could also seek a valuable handicap pot with their former Triumph Hurdle champion Pentland Hills, who made an encouraging reappearance at Doncaster on Saturday when finishing second.

Pentland Hills made a pleasing return at Doncaster
Pentland Hills made a pleasing return at Doncaster (Julian Herbert/PA)

Nicky Henderson’s eight-year-old could now be set for a second crack at Kempton’s Lanzarote Hurdle having pulled-up in the race when out of sorts last season.

“He’s come out of the race well and we’re happy with him,” continued Downie.

“Nicky has actually been really happy with him this season and we have no firm plans, but we will probably have the Lanzarote in our minds as a possible target for him.

“He just wasn’t in any sort of form last year. He didn’t take to chasing and then it is always difficult to come back and the ground was pretty awful. I think you can draw a line through last season.”

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