PAUL Nicholls is back at the Cheltenham Festival. After two winless Festivals, it was a case of the London buses for the Ditcheat trainer as Stay Away Fay held all rivals at bay to land the Grade 1 Albert Bartlett Novice Hurdle after Stage Star’s Turners win on Thursday.
The Chris Giles and David Staddon-owned six-year-old was yet another long priced winner of the three-mile contest at 18/1 - only Monkfish had one at a single figure price in the previous 10 renewals, while he also proved that you don’t need a significant amount of experience to win the race, having had just two starts for Nicholls this season.
He raced prominently throughout and though tackled hard by Irish horses on either side - until Corbett Cross’s dramatic run-out at the last - he always looked to be holding off the challenge, scoring by a length from Noel Meade’s Affordale Fury (150/1) and Paul Nolan’s Sandor Clegane.
Corbetts Cross was probably held when ducking out. Mark Walsh was stood down for the day after the incident.
Reflecting on the winner in the winner’s enclosure, Nicholls was already looking to the future.
“He’s a very smart young horse, and he’ll improve for the summer,” the trainer said. “I knew he would win turning in, because he’s a very, very strong stayer.
“I thought he would run really well. He’s a smart young horse who probably should have won the last day (Grade 2 at Doncaster in January), and has taken a real step forward since then. He looked fantastic and to me he ran how he looked.
“We rode him a little bit differently today - very positively - and he jumped very well. That was only his third race under rules and there’s lots of improvement to come from him. He’s really good, though.”
Cobden judged it perfectly from the front, just as he did on Stage Star yesterday. Back in the winner’s enclosure, he said: “He is very tough and obviously a good horse. From a jockey’s point of view it is a long way to be in front from turning in to the last.
“For an inexperienced horse with the crowd and all the cheering he was pulling up a little bit in front so he did well to keep going. I really fancied him and I thought he had a massive chance coming into this race.”
Stay Away Fay is lightly raced enough to run at least once more this season, possibly at Aintree, but it wouldn’t be a surprise should Nicholls put him away for novice chasing next year. He was bought for £305,000 by Tom Malone for his current connections after he won a Lingstown point-to-point for Matthew Flynn O’Connor.
On the runner-up, Noel Meade was delighted with the performance, but not necessarily surprised.
“He was only 150-1 because he was pulled-up the last day and what happened the last day was that he got a fall at Navan when they went too quick two starts ago,” he said.
“He’s a very good horse and I think he’ll be a very good chaser. He’s a brilliant jumper and a good stayer. He got the most brilliant ride from the young fella (Sam Ewing), if you watch it again he was so cool and he was brilliant. When you come here you’re always hoping to run into the money.”