Stage Star survives late scare to claim Paddy Power glory

Sat 18 Nov 2023

Watch how a bad mistake at the final fence could not stop the Paul Nicholls-trained star shining bright under Harry Cobden in the feature at Cheltenham on Saturday.

 Stage Star and Cobden face a moment of peril after the final fence but the pair still prevailed (
Stage Star and Cobden face a moment of peril after the final fence but the pair still prevailed (

Stage Star survived a bad mistake at the final fence and still won the Paddy Power Gold Cup handsomely.

Sent off the 4-1 favourite, the Paul Nicholls-trained and Harry Cobden-ridden seven-year-old confirmed his Turners Novices’ Chase form with Notlongtillmay in the process.

The pair were first and second at the Festival in March and it was Laura Morgan’s charge who once again was chasing in vain.

Stage Star made just about all the running and while top weight The Real Whacker gave him company for the first two miles, he dropped away coming down the hill.

Cobden was then content to sit for a few strides as the challengers mounted up behind him, with Notlongtillmay, Fugitif, Unexpected Party and Il Ridoto still with chances.

Stage Star quickened clear, though, and had the race in safe keeping until he made a horlicks of the last.

It was to his great credit that within a matter of strides he was back in top gear and went clear to win by four lengths to give Nicholls a third win in the race.

"He did well to win, you don't often make mistakes like that, lose your momentum and gallop on. If he had not done that, then he would have won very well," said Nicholls.

"It's been a bit of a challenge to get him right, as he's not one who wants to be taken away for a gallop, he's not been anywhere, we've just got him right at home. He's good fresh but it's about getting that balance right between being fresh and good enough to win like today.

"This has been a target from when he came and if he hadn't made that mistake at the last, he would have been really impressive.

"He's got to be a Ryanair horse hasn't he on that, he's going to keep improving and his season will be geared back from that. He has to go left-handed and there's no point going anywhere else with him, Ryanair will be the aim now.

"He jumps left and you have to go that way and Harry said 'if I'm in front turning in, I won't get beat'. He's given it a brilliant ride.

"He's definitely improved off last year's form, to win off 155 and win a tad cosily, even with a mistake like that, he has to be right in the mix for the Ryanair.

"If we didn't run before then, I wouldn't lose any sleep over it. I won't run him right-handed, so that limits a little bit where we go, but that's not a worry."

Winning rider Cobden added: "I was going quite well and I was sort of in two minds and I wasn't really committed to either of what we were doing, and he made a bit of a mistake.

"The peck on landing was where the real problem was after, he has probably gone from 25 miles per hour down to a walk and it's a big ask to get a horse back going when you have only a furlong to go up a hill.

"He's an incredibly tough horse and he would run until he can't run anymore, we're just grateful to have him and I'm grateful to ride him.

"It was a massive performance and he's carried a lot of weight there. I was most impressed with how he settled and jumped from fence to fence. He's come here without a run and he hasn't been away for a gallop, so all his fitness is what he has done at home.

"He's such an honest horse they can get him 110 per cent at home and there's no better man to target a race than Paul Nicholls."

Views from the vanquished

Notlongtillmay won twice at Musselburgh last season before finishing second in the Grade One Turners Novices Chase at The Cheltenham Festival in March.

And she added: “Even though when I came to the Turners people were probably thinking, ‘She’s only gone to Musselburgh’ but the manner in which he was winning those races he was destroying the field, so he had every right to be here in the Turners and I thought he ran a screamer then and the same again today.”

Referring to the winner, Stage Star, making an error at the last, Morgan concluded: “It was crazy. I’d seen Harry Cobden tip and he was falling and I was like ‘ooohhhhh’, but I wouldn’t wish that on Harry. He’s a top lad. I’m just delighted that he’s run a screamer.”

Jockey Adam Wedge added: “He’s run a fantastic race. We just need to find a way to get in front of Nicholls’ I think!”

“The only time I thought we might have a chance was when Stage Star was down on his nose but he had plenty left and he went away from me again.”

Owner Alan Rogers, the former Leicester City and Nottingham Forest defender, added: “He is a superstar. The winner is a nice horse and he has beaten us twice and there are no excuses with him. I’m a small owner from a small yard and I can’t be more happy with him. I can’t be more proud.

“I’m delighted for Laura as she deserves this. In my opinion she is the best trainer I’ve come across. Stage Star is a good horse and you have to take your hat off to him. This is the dream and I’ve come second in two big races at Cheltenham. I’m over the moon. Look at the horses we beat. The Real Whacker is a superstar and we have beaten him. It is the stuff of dreams. He will win a big race don’t worry about that. There is so much more to come from him.”

The top-weight was last year’s Grade One Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase hero The Real Whacker (13-2), who was pulled-up.

His joint-owner David Mann said: “We knew he was carrying top weight and he hadn’t run for a long time. Paddy (Neville, trainer) had him in good condition, but I think between the soft ground and the top weight that has probably gone against him.

“I think he needed the run today to bring him on. If you remember he ran at the October meeting last year here over hurdles and he ran very well then he came on the following month and then he had a great run over fences. I think he just needed this one. Sam (Twiston-Davies, jockey) knew it wasn’t to be. He didn’t want to injure the horse and he just took it easy when he knew his chance was gone.

“I think we will look at the King George on Boxing Day. Sam was happy enough with him. We knew we were up against it today with a savage weight. I don’t think it makes any difference as I think The Real Whacker will come back and be a good horse. I think he will come back a better horse next time. We are still very happy with him and I’d be hoping I still have some more good years with him.”

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