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Tom Maher/INPHO Harry Cobden on Stage Star comes home to win.
Racing

Stage Star strikes for Nicholls, disappointment for Elliott's Mighty Potter

All-the-way win ends Cheltenham Festival drought for champion trainer.

STAGE STAR JUMPED his rivals into submission in the Turners Novices’ Chase to end Paul Nicholls’ three-year drought at the Cheltenham Festival.

The champion trainer had drawn a blank at the big meeting since Politologue won the Champion Chase in 2020, but it proved well worth the wait as Stage Star backed up his smart form this season to produce an excellent round of jumping and galloping.

Sent immediately to the front by Harry Cobden, the 15-2 shot traded blows with Laura Morgan’s Notlongtilmay throughout, with the duo the only ones left in the mix after the last and the Ditcheat inmate pulling out more for a three-and-a-quarter-length success.

Odds-on favourite Mighty Potter travelled well for the majority, as did Willie Mullins’ Appreciate It, but both failed to pick up sufficiently at the business end, with the celebrations belonging to Nicholls, who took his Cheltenham tally to 47, and his jockey Cobden – himself ending a long four-year stay on the Festival cold list.

“It’s been a tough week so far, but it’s a tough place,” said Nicholls.

“We were a little bit unlucky yesterday with a couple, but that was brilliant. Different track, slightly better ground, it was always going to suit us. I said to Harry today ‘be positive, bowl along in front and ride him like the best horse in the race’. He gave him a peach of a ride there.”

“This is a young horse who is improving and we’re thrilled. I’m thrilled he’s come back from last year’s disaster and gone really forward. It gives me more hope for Bravemansgame in the Gold Cup tomorrow, who did exactly the same thing last spring.

“I think that is his trip and he’ll be aimed for the Ryanair next year. He probably would get three miles, but he has plenty of boot and he jumps well.”

paul-nicholls Tom Maher / INPHO Paul Nicholls celebrates. Tom Maher / INPHO / INPHO

Reflecting further, Nicholls said: “That was good for Harry today. He needed a bit of a confidence booster before tomorrow because he was bit down last night. That’s a massive plus.

“It’s hard to win here. We’ve only got 15 or 16 runners here all week and you’ve got to make every one count.

“It’s not easy taking on the Irish battalions, but there are some very good trainers here and it was nice to see Dan (Skelton) have a winner yesterday, too.

“We haven’t got the numbers some of the Irish trainers have and we’re up against it all the time, but we can only do our best.”

harry-cobden-celebrates-on-stage-star-after-winning Tom Maher / INPHO Harry Cobden celebrates. Tom Maher / INPHO / INPHO

Gordon Elliott was philosophical after the defeat of the favourite, seen by many as one of the bankers of the week.

He said: “He didn’t have a nice experience here last year, but he’s run better than then at least. It’s always disappointing when you don’t win, but that is the game we are in.

“He never got into a decent rhythm like he did the last day. At Leopardstown he would jump and Davy (Russell) would take him back, but today he was stretching for them. We’ll get him home and see where we are.”

Russell could offer no excuses and said: “It’s very disappointing but I can’t put my finger on anything, he didn’t miss a beat the whole way. The winner is a good horse and the second isn’t bad with a string of ones next to his name. I’ve no real excuses.

“I was worried about him hanging as he was still running, I didn’t lose much ground. I’ve won plenty of races here by drifting right. He just might not have been good enough.”

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