Stage Star put himself in the Cheltenham Festival picture with a fine display of jumping on Trials Day – the first leg of a brilliant 102-1 treble at Prestbury Park for champion trainer Paul Nicholls.
Sent off the 11-4 favourite for the Timeform Novices’ Handicap Chase and carrying top-weight of 12st, the son of Fame And Glory produced an exhibition round from the front end to coast home the best part of four-lengths clear of runner-up Datsalrightgino in the hands of Harry Cobden.
In the aftermath, Coral went 10-1 from 25s for the Grade One Turners Novices’ Chase at the Festival, but his future target appears still to be decided.
“He has shown what he is made of today. It has just taken him a little while to get right,” said Nicholls.
“He won the Challow last year and we thought he was good. He was very good at Warwick then it all went wrong at Newbury. I think that day several horses didn’t enjoy the ground and he hung. He had a nice confidence booster at Plumpton and he has done that very nicely.
“It is a big weight to carry around there and do that well. I’m thrilled with that. I thought he was nicely in off 142. He is only a novice and he has a bit of experience around here and it means we can come back here in March if we want to in one of the novice chases. He was a Grade One winner last season and he is obviously a very nice horse, 142 was a very nice mark if he put it all together.
“That (the Cheltenham Festival) is a long way off. He would get three miles, but it depends on the ground and opposition. He will be well worth running. He is only a novice once.
“I thought the ground was that bit softer how he likes it today and he is a novice and I wasn’t sure I wanted to go three miles at Newbury as I have something else for that anyway. There are not lots of options for horses like these.
“The top-weight should be the best horse in the race if it all goes right and I think 142 was a fair mark. He is a Challow Hurdle winner and he should be a 150 horse in time. He will be a smart chaser. He is just getting his act together and we are learning how to train him. The day at Newbury he was beat the ground was very quick. He is much better on that ground.”
Nicholls and Cobden soon added to their tally when Il Ridoto (9-2) held off the 7-2 favourite Fugitif to land the Paddy Power Cheltenham Countdown Podcast Handicap Chase.
A switch to front-running tactics combined with the application of cheekpieces had the desired effect and the winner is likely to return for the handicap over the same track and trip at the Festival.
“I thought he had a big chance of winning here the last day (when fourth in the Paddy Power New Year’s Day Handicap Chase) but he sort of ducked in left handed and fell through the last and that sort of cost him any chance really,” said Nicholls.
“I think few were doubting about whether he wanted a flat track and whether he truly stayed. I thought he was kidding us a little bit as he was coming out of his races so well and the cheekpieces have focused his mind today. He travelled and jumped brilliantly and had a great ride so it’s superb.
“When you’re fit and well you’re better off on the speed around here and I said to him to go out and ride him like he rode Stage Star. If it happens great and if it doesn’t so be it.”
He went on: “I said if he didn’t win today we’d have to go for a flat track but I thought he’d gallop up the hill – he’s just been kidding us and today he did it nicely.
“I haven’t really got a plan for him to be honest, if he hadn’t have won I was going to go for a race at Newbury just before the Festival on a flat track but now he has I suppose we’ll come back here.
“I wouldn’t be afraid of possibly considering the Topham Chase for him, as I think two miles and five furlongs around Aintree would suit him nicely.”
It was left to stable conditional Angus Cheleda and willing partner Hacker Des Places to put the finishing touches on a fantastic day for team Ditcheat when they combined to land the concluding SSS Super Alloys Handicap Hurdle.
The victory brought up a 140-1 across-the-card treble of their own for the Owners Group, with the champion trainer revealing the Betfair Hurdle will be up next.
Nicholls said: “It was a long way from the second last to the line! He’s in the Betfair Hurdle in two weeks’ time, which has always been my aim.
“I just felt we needed to get a run into him. He has been in training for so long without a run. He should improve a little bit for today’s run, and will get a little penalty but Angus will take that off and we’ll go to Newbury.”
Cheleda added: “I thought I got there a bit too soon really and then the race fell apart at two out, so I thought I’d kick off the bend and he’s galloped all the way up the hill. It’s my first winner at Cheltenham for the boss so it’s a special moment.”