There was still a loud gasp from the stands when the big screen replayed Stage Star’s last-fence mistake in Saturday’s Paddy Power Gold Cup for what felt like at least the 15th time. Such moments of sudden, all-or-nothing peril are a speciality at this track, but it takes a special horse – and rider – to respond as Stage Star and Harry Cobden did, by shifting from a near-walk to a full-out gallop up the hill to ensure that victory did not slip from their grasp.
“Harry said to me beforehand that if he was in front turning in, there was no way he was getting beat,” Paul Nicholls, who trained both Stage Star and Il Ridoto, the third horse home, said afterwards.
In fact, he was in the front rank from the off, vying for the lead with The Real Whacker, a fellow Grade One winner at the Festival in March and the only horse in the race carrying more weight than the winner.
The Real Whacker’s lack of a prep race started to tell on the run to the third last, but Stage Star, who was also running for the first time this season, kept pouring it on and hadthe field soundly beaten when he came down much too steeply at the last, and then stumbled on landing.
“I was sort of in two minds and not properly committed to either,” Cobden said. “He made a bit of a mistake but the peck on landing was where the actual problem was, he’s probably gone from 35 miles an hour to a walk, and it’s a big ask to get a horse going up that hill when you’ve only got a furlong to run. He’s carried a hell of a lot of weight there, and all the way round, I was most impressed with how he settled and jumped from fence to fence.”
Nicholls confirmed afterwards that the Ryanair Chase at the Festival meeting, for which the seven-year-old is now the clear 4-1 favourite, will be Stage Star’s main target this season, while Cobden was also at his very best aboard another live Festival contender, James Owen’s Burdett Road, who is top-priced at around 7-1 for the Triumph Hurdle after staying on from last three out to win the opening juvenile hurdle.
Broadway Boy made all of the running and, like Stage Star, survived a significant mistake along the way before pulling 20 lengths clear of Weveallbeencaught, a stable companion at the Nigel Twiston-Davies yard, in the card’s listed novice chase.
“I think we’ll probably look at Kempton [on Boxing day] and then freshen him up like mad for March,” Willie Twiston-Davies, the trainer’s son and assistant, said. “I’m emotional, because he’s a special horse for me. I ride him every day. He’s an armchair, I don’t have to touch the reins. When I walk around the yard, he recognises me. I don’t have favourites, but Dad said to me, there’s always one horse you’re soft to, and he’s mine.”
Sunday’s Cheltenham selections
Jonbon (2.55) is odds-on to start his second season over fences with a win in the Shloer Chase on the final afternoon of the November meeting on Sunday, but a more interesting bet – at a much more rewarding price – could be the 40-1 available in places about Olly Murphy’s Go Dante (3.30) in the Greatwood Handicap Hurdle.
Newcastle: 12.25 Lochnaver, 12.55 Temple City, 1.28 Alfred, 2.00 Lou Lou’s Gift, 2.38 Bella Kopella, 3.14 Top Gun Tina, 3.45 Martin’s Brig.
Fontwell: 12.30 Classic Lord, 1.00 Rose Sea Has, 1.33 Word Has It, 2.04 Tommie Beau, 2.43 Steven Seagull, 3.19 Captain Claude, 3.50 Sam’s Amour.
Cheltenham: 1.10 The Kemble Brewery, 1.45 Crebilly, 2.20 City Chief (nb), 2.55 Jonbon, 3.30 Go Dante (nap), 4.00 Moon Chime.
The form of his win at Wincanton in March, in a useful time, would put him on the premises, and while he has not run since finishing eighth in a competitive race at Aintree in April, he has had a wind operation since that outing and Murphy shows a level-stakes profit with horses running for the first time after an op.