Stage may still Star at Cheltenham Festival

Challow Hurdle winner Stage Star has not yet been ruled out of a Cheltenham Festival appearance despite an initial inclination by trainer Paul Nicholls to swerve the event.

His six-and-a-half-length Challow defeat of West Balboa Newbury last week took his unbeaten run to three over hurdles.

Nicholls originally felt that his gelding would bypass Cheltenham and instead take in Aintree but Dan Downie, racing manager to the Owners Group partnership to whom the horse belongs, admits the door remains open.

He said: "It was a really good performance. He is very exciting. We obviously really always liked him, but they need to prove it on the track and we were delighted with his display at Newbury - he was very impressive.

"I think Paul wants to go down the Bravemansgame route with him. It looks like that and makes perfect sense.

"He has taken the race well and we are delighted with him. It will be a case of assessing and seeing what the entries are at Cheltenham.

"Paul has said he would not be keen to go to Cheltenham with him, unless he really felt he was going to be very competitive. We have to see what the Irish send, and so on.

"There is an outside possibility he will go there and he'll have an entry, I'm sure.

"That will likely be in the two-miles-and-five-furlongs Ballymore Novices' Hurdle, I'd imagine, but I wouldn't rule anything out. I don't think he is short of pace, but that is something Paul would need to think about."

After his clear-cut Newbury success, Stage Star was cut by Planetsport Bet to 8-1 for the Ballymore Novices' Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in March, and he is 14-1 for the Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle and 25-1 for the Supreme Novices' Hurdle.

Downie feels that Stage Star has the potential to become the best horse the highly successful Owners Group syndicates have owned.

He added: "Pentland Hills, who won the Triumph Hurdle and the Anniversary 4-Y-O Juvenile Hurdle at Aintree, was very good, but Stage Star, you'd think in terms of longevity and terms of being a future chaser, is potentially more exciting.

"You just don't know, but after Pentland Hills, he is the only other Grade 1 winner and we're looking forward to some more great days with him."

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