It was ow the mighty had fallen. Before Thursday’s card got underway, Paul Nicholls, a 13-time British champion trainer who had sat on the first home in 46 Festival races, including four Gold Cups, six Champion Chases and one Champion Hurdle, may have wondered if he would ever welcome one of his charges back into the winners’ enclosure at Cheltenham.
One of the best trainers in the business had endured a scarcely credible barren spell coming into St Patrick’s Thursday, a marketing confection and orgy of paddywhackery masterminded in partnership with household names such as Kauto Star, Denman, Frodon, Big Buck’s and Flagship Uberalles, among others.
In spite of 18 consecutive years of Festival success, Nicholls had failed to win since 2020 and Hermes Allen had already seen arguably his top pick for this year thrash the Ballymore Hurdle on Wednesday. It was a dispiriting and familiar story that summed up his frustrations with Festival life; seeing his horse go off as favourite only to get emphatically beaten in a race where Willie Mullins sent out the first three horses.
It was just 24 hours later that Stage Star ended the drought
After a fine frontrunning ride by Harry Cobden, the horse’s clearly happy whisperer emitted a flurry of exultant fist-pumps and West Country whooping.
It was the first time Nicholas had triumphed in more prestigious Festival races but he couldn’t look happier at having finally beat the combined forces of Irish raiders sent into battle by Mullins and Elliott after so long. Although Stage Star’s win in the Turners Novice Chase wasn’t the stuff of racing dreams, it ended a nightmare for his relieved trainer in this particular race.
Despite losing his touch
He still sends out winners at a prodigious rate. He leads the jumps trainers’ championship with earnings of almost £3 million this season, and before Thursday, he had saddled 19 Group One winners in England and Ireland since his Cheltenham cold streak began three years ago when Politologue won the Queen Mother Champion Chase.
He has repeatedly commented on the futility of attempting to overcome horses imported from Ireland. And he correctly predicted that his Celtic rivals would bully Hermes Allen into submission on Tuesday. “I’m not going to waste bullets just to try to beat the Irish,” he said last year. “If I don’t think they are good enough. I will take them somewhere else and be a bit more selective and run in races we can win.” That’s all Paul Nicholls.
If Nicholls’ comments smack of sour grapes. He insists they aren’t meant to and it is almost certainly fair to say he is just being pragmatic. In addition. He noted that he needs time to rebuild his squad so that they can give. The Irish plunderers a decent game on a regular basis. Just as an elite football manager would Paul Nicholls.
He spoke of the accomplishment of Stage Star’s victory
Noting that with only 15 or 16 horses running for the week, every win counts. His enthusiasm for the future was evident when he commented on how they are building up their horses again and have much more yet to come over the years. Despite having fewer horses than their Irish counterparts, he proposed giving it their all in order to achieve further success.
With only five bullets left to fire on the final day of this year’s Festival. Bravemansgame stands a good chance to hit the mark in the Gold Cup. Though those ahead of him in the betting are noteworthy. There is some uncertainty over whether he can make the distance. Nevertheless. His trainer is adamant that he has significantly improved over the last year. An increase in ability that will be essential for obtaining the Festival’s most sought-after prize.