Stage Star (8/1) could be on course for a run in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival after claiming a maiden Grade One success in the Challow Novices’ Hurdle at Newbury on Wednesday.
The Paul Nicholls-trained five-year-old was sent off as the favourite despite it being his first run at Grade One level and did not disappoint under the guidance of Harry Cobden, who held him back for the majority of the two-and-a-half-mile trip before taking charge at the penultimate flight and winning by a convincing six and a half lengths.
It is the second successive year that Nicholls and Cobden have combined to win the race, with Bravemansgame triumphing 12 months ago, and the winning trainer confirmed that Stage Star could now follow in the footsteps of his stablemate by heading to Cheltenham for the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle.
The Ditcheat-supremo said told reporters after the race: “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.”
Wednesday’s other big meeting came from Leopardstown, where Sharjah (8/1 to win Champion Hurdle) landed the Grade One Matheson Hurdle for the fourth year in a row, claiming the victory by a neck from Zanahiyr.
In both 2020 and 2021, Sharjah has followed up that success by disappointing in the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown before bouncing back to claim second in the Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, but trainer Willie Mullins says they may adopt a different tact this season.
“We might do that (miss the Irish Champion Hurdle) and go straight to Cheltenham, but I’ll have a word with (owners) Rich and Susannah (Ricci) and see.
“It might be the thing to do as it doesn’t seem to work for him.”
Sharjah was not the only Grade One winner at Leopardstown on Wednesday, as Fury Road led home stablemate Run Wild Fred to win the Neville Hotels Novice Chase and provide a one-two for trainer Gordon Elliott.
Both horses are expected to head to Cheltenham in the spring and they could go head-to-head in the National Hunt Chase (Fury Road 8/1, Run Wild Fred 9/2) – a race Elliott has won on four previous occasions.