Stage Star maintained his unbeaten record this term with a clear-cut success in the MansionBet Challow Novices’ Hurdle at Newbury.
Stepping up to Grade One company for the first time, Paul Nicholls’ charge was sent off the 5-4 favourite after impressing with wins at Chepstow in October and at this track last month.
Harry Cobden was happy to sit in third for much of the extended two-and-a-half-mile trip as High Stakes set out to make all with Lossiemouth racing on his heels.
All seven runners looked to have a chance turning for home, but as Lossiemouth started to toil, it was evident Stage Star was travelling much the best and he grabbed the initiative at the penultimate flight.
Cobden then kicked on and Stage Star cleared the last in style to come home six and a half lengths clear of the staying-on West Balboa.
Coral chopped Stage Star from 16-1 to 8-1 for the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in March.
Nicholls was winning the race for the fourth time overall and the second successive year after Bravemansgame’s triumph in 2020 and Stage Star could now follow a similar route to his stablemate who went on to finish third in the Ballymore back in March.
The trainer said: “He stays and is a proper horse. He would not want to go three miles yet – he has too much speed for that.
“We might follow the same route that Bravemansgame did last year. He is straightforward and that was a really taking performance. I’m delighted with him.
“He ran on soft at Chepstow and ran on soft at Ascot and he has just got stronger and better. I can’t believe how much speed he has got.
“That is by far and away the best performance he has given. He has got better and fitter and has learned his job. We were very happy with the way he looked going into the race. Harry was quite surprise at how well he won. He said he had so much speed.
“All in all a great performance from a horse who is going to be a lovely chaser in time.
“He just needed a little bit of time and we haven’t been too serious with him until after his last run, as we knew this was going to be a tough task and he had to be at his very best. He will certainly need a little break after today.
“He is a very exciting horse.”
While Cheltenham remains in Nicholls’ mind, the handler could instead opt to wait for the Grand National meeting in April.
He added: “You are always anxious in a Grade One but just the way he quickened up from the last was really good.
“Today was always the target and we will think about what we will do with him in the future.
“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.
“You want to go to Cheltenham to win – you don’t want to go to Cheltenham and finish fifth or sixth and give yourself a hard race unnecessarily. You have got to be competitive and I have learned that even more so over the last few years.”
Dan Skelton was thrilled with the performance of the runner-up, adding: “I’m delighted with her.
“She is the only mare. She is having only her third lifetime start, her second race over hurdles and she travelled really well, jumped beautifully and got beat by a very good horse. She has beaten the others comprehensively and there is nothing to grumble about.
“You have got to be a good horse to keep going in that ground.”