Stage Star survived a bad mistake at the final fence and still won the Paddy Power Gold Cup at Cheltenham on Saturday, 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.”
Enjoy the replay:
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.”