Stage Star may be headed for Aintree after his festival disappointment

Conditions at Cheltenham conspired against Nicholls’s previously unbeaten gelding

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.


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.”

Sixth start

Ben Case, meanwhile, is looking to run his Cheltenham Festival runner-up Cobblers Dream once more this spring before going novice chasing with him next season.

The lightly-raced six-year-old will go to either Aintree or Punchestown next month. Both festival meetings have a handicap hurdle over two and a half miles, while Case will also make an entry in the Grade One Betway Mersey Novices' Hurdle at the Liverpool venue.

Cobblers Dream went close to giving Case a second Cheltenham Festival success, after Croco Bay in the 2019 Grand Annual, when finishing second to Banbridge in the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys' Handicap Hurdle on what was only his sixth start over the smaller obstacles.

“He ran another good race. He’s really had a good season,” said Case.

“He’s travelling through his races well, so he’s not giving himself a hard time. He’ll probably have one more run and that will be it for the season.

“His options are to either go to Aintree or Punchestown, so it will be one or the other. We haven’t made a decision on that yet.

“I may even stick an entry in the novice at Aintree. He’s more likely to run in one of the handicaps, I would think, but sometimes those novices cut up at this time of year. It might not happen, but it will be worth having a look at. It’s a good position to be in.”

Case is already excited about pitching Cobblers Dream over the bigger obstacles next term.

“I’ve already schooled him over fences and he’s been very good, so I don’t see any reason not to and if it doesn’t work out, we can come back over hurdles,” he added.