Nicholls celebrates after a testing couple of days (Healy Racing Photo)
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.
An all-the-way winner in handicap company on Festival Trials day and a Grade One winner as a novice hurdler, he repeated the dose when it really mattered, moving back into top company with aplomb.
Full replay: 2023 Turners Novices' Chase
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."
A delighted Paul Nicholls shares his post-race reaction with Lydia Hislop
He added: "He travelled and jumped well and quickened up like he did the last day. I told Harry go out, go a nice gallop and be positive and dictate it from the front - he's so good at doing that.
"I think if we went back and rode that race yesterday (Ballymore, with Hermes Allen) again we might have done things differently, but we're not going to look back, we're going to look forward.
"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."
"Amazing!" - Harry Cobden reflects on Festival glory
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 here. We've only got 15 or 16 runners here all week and you've got to make every one count.
"We've had a great time here over the years. It's hard to get those horses back, but we're building up again and I think the next few years will be positive.
"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."
A thrilled Morgan looks to next year with her 40-1 runner-up Notlongtilmay
Morgan was understandably delighted with her runner and said: "I thought he was going to win. He's run a screamer, he's still only a novice, obviously, but he's just a baby and he was a bit bold at a few which frightened me. I'm absolutely delighted with him.
"This is my dream to be around trainers like Paul Nicholls and Willie Mullins, it's just incredible."
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.
"I can't put my finger on anything" - Davy Russell offers no real excuses for the performance of hot favourite Mighty Potter
"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."
Willie Mullins, trainer of fourth-placed Appreciate It, said: "I am disappointed he did not improve a bit for the step up in trip but Harry Cobden dictated matters from the front and that has made the difference at the end of the day."
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