Tag Archive for: Stage Star

Stage Star could be given Aintree opportunity

Stage Star is not ruled out of an Aintree appearance after pulling up in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.

The gelding had three outings this season prior to the race and was victorious every time, taking a maiden and a novice before landing the Grade One Challow Novices’ Hurdle in convincing style.

Heading to the Festival unbeaten over hurdles as a result, the Paul Nicholls-trained six-year-old started as a 7-1 chance for the Ballymore as only Henry de Bromhead’s Journey With Me and eventual winner Sir Gerhard were more fancied.

Unrelenting rain had turned the going to soft before the contest and in testing conditions Stage Star strained against the early slow pace, pulling hard before making a mistake over the third-last and weakening as a result.

Paul Nicholls' Stage Star
Paul Nicholls’ Stage Star (Adam Davy/PA)

Ultimately pulled up by Harry Cobden, the bay is none the worse for the experience after walking home under his jockey.

“He’s fine, he came back fine. There were no issues with him, it just wasn’t his day at Cheltenham,” said Dan Downie, racing manager to the Owners Group syndicate.

“He was very keen and in that ground it was pretty clear fairly early on that it wasn’t going to work.

“Harry looked after him and made sure he didn’t have a hard time of it, and that’s the main thing.

“You certainly couldn’t judge him on that, he was beaten before the race really got serious so I think it is best to just draw a line under it and move on.”

Connections are open-minded as to whether to give him another outing this term and Aintree is under consideration, with the team also yet to decide if Stage Star will remain a hurdler next season or turn his hand to steeplechasing.

“We’re open minded really, he’s got an option at Aintree which we will have a good look at it but he won’t run unless we’re really happy with him,” he said.

“Again, we’re open minded (as to whether he goes chasing).

“The plan was for him to go chasing at some point, but I suppose it will depend on if he runs again and how he does. We’ll take a view over the summer, I should think.”

Nicholls sweet on Challow winner Stage Star in Ballymore

Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle contender Stage Star will carry high hopes for connections at this year’s Cheltenham Festival.

Successful on his bumper debut at Chepstow last season before being placed at Ascot and Aintree, the six-year-old – who runs in the increasingly familiar colours of the Owners Group syndicate – is three from three over obstacles ahead of his trip to the Cotswolds.

The Fame And Glory gelding completed his hat-trick with a Grade One victory in the Challow Hurdle at Newbury in December and has been kept fresh for his the Festival since.

In a market dominated by the Irish, Stage Star is very much Britain’s leading hope – and trainer Paul Nicholls is keen on his chance.

“He was a good bumper horse last year and was always going to be a better horse this year. He’s won all three of his novice hurdles and you just wouldn’t know how good he might be,” said the champion trainer.

“He was ready to go to Exeter a fortnight ago, but the ground was so heavy that day and I didn’t want to give him a hard race, so we’ve just kept him nice and fresh.

“He had a piece of work at Wincanton 10 days ago and went very nicely with Monmiral.

“He’s probably one of our best chances of the week, I would say, and whatever happens he’ll be a lovely horse to go chasing next season.”

One of the Ditcheat handler’s most interesting handicap runners is McFabulous, who is being readied for a tilt at at the Coral Cup.

McFabulous is an interesting contender for the Coral Cup
McFabulous is an interesting contender for the Coral Cup (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

The multiple Grade Two winner made a promising start to his campaign when runner-up in the Relkeel Hurdle on New Year’s Day, and Nicholls believes his stamina limitations were exposed when stepped up to three miles for the Cleeve on Festival Trials Day.

He said: “He’s rated 150 and has 11st 8lb, but it looks like it could be a condensed handicap.

“I would have liked to have gone chasing with him this year, but he had an accident in the yard earlier in the season which set us back.

“He ran in the Relkeel and ran really well despite needing the run badly. We then went to the Cleeve and he blatantly didn’t get three miles up the Cheltenham hill.

“After that I said we’d go for the Coral Cup over two-miles-five, which should be the perfect trip.

“He went to Wincanton this morning (Thursday) and worked beautifully. I’d say he’s just starting to come right.”

Megan Nicholls celebrates winning aboard Knappers Hill at Aintree
Megan Nicholls celebrates winning aboard Knappers Hill at Aintree (David Davies/Jockey Club)

Knappers Hill, who was last seen finishing sixth in the lucrative Betfair Hurdle, could step up in trip for the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Hurdle if he makes the cut.

“He’s on a nice mark on 135, but he’ll be struggling to get in,” Nicholls added.

“If he gets in, he’ll run. He got pushed wide in the Betfair and stayed on, beaten six lengths. I’d say he’s doubtful to get in, in which case we’d go to Aintree.”

A potential “dark horse” among the Nicholls squad is Irish recruit Bell Ex One.

The four-year-old won twice from three starts over hurdles and four times overall for Ray Cody before changing hands for £110,000 at the Tattersalls Cheltenham December Sale.

He is set to debut for his new connections in the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle.

Nicholls said: “He’s won over hurdles and on the Flat in Ireland. He went to Wincanton, galloped quite nicely but I haven’t run him so I don’t know much about him.

“I’d say on what he’s done, 130 is quite a stiff mark. I’ve kept him for this, he just wouldn’t have been ready to have a run.

“He’s a bit of a dark horse, Harry (Cobden) rode him work and loved him, but I wouldn’t really have an opinion. He’s a nice horse and does everything right.

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.”

Stage Star outclasses Challow rivals

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.

Stage Star on his way to Challow success
Stage Star on his way to Challow success (David Davies/PA)

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.”

Stage is set for Star to stake his claim

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.

Stage Star has looked the part so far
Stage Star has looked the part so far (Adam Davy/PA)

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.”

Stan Sheppard riding Lossiemouth to victory at Sandown
Stan Sheppard riding Lossiemouth to victory at Sandown (Steven Paston/PA)

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.

Full Back (right) is a contender for Mandarin Chase honours
Full Back (right) is a contender for Mandarin Chase honours (Adam Davy/PA)

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.

Stage Star aiming for leading role in Challow Hurdle

Stage Star could take aim at the Grade One Challow Novices’ Hurdle after making a flawless start to his hurdling career this season.

The five-year-old 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 to be a springboard to his successful hurdling bow at Chepstow last month.

A second hurdles run at Newbury on Friday also ended in victory, with the Paul Nicholls-trained gelding a seven-and-a-half-length winner of a competitive novice contest.

The bay is highly regarded by his trainer and as such is now on course for Newbury in December, a race previously won by quality prospects such as Bravemansgame, Thyme Hill and Champ.

“He’s a horse that we’ve always liked, a horse that was always going to improve physically as he matures,” said Dan Downie, racing manager to the Owners Group partnership to whom the horse belongs.

“He’s developed into a really nice horse now, he’s always been a good jumper.

“His two wins have been impressive. The last time he was great at Newbury and even before that Paul was thinking it could be a stepping stone to the Challow, back there in December.

“I think that remains the plan, that he’ll run in the Challow at Newbury near Christmas.”

The Owners Group can also look forward to Grade One-winning hurdler Pentland Hills, who was unbeaten in his juvenile season and was last seen finishing ninth in the Champion Hurdle at the 2020 Cheltenham Festival.

Pentland Hills in action at Cheltenham
Pentland Hills in action at Cheltenham (David Davies/PA)

An unrelated injury saw the Nicky Henderson-trained six-year-old miss the following season entirely, with a return to action then delayed by a subsequent suspensory problem.

The gelding has now returned to work having overcome those issues and is likely to take to the track again next year, with the initial aim a resumption of his hurdling career before a step into the novice chasing ranks is considered.

“You won’t see him until later on in the new year, he basically picked up a suspensory injury in the autumn,” Downie said.

“He’s back in steady work, but he won’t be out imminently.

“He’s always been a good, accurate jumper. We’ve always got that (chasing) up our sleeves, but I’d imagine that by the time he’s ready to run it would make sense to stick to hurdles and then go chasing in the autumn next year.”