Sir Gerhard bids to get the Cheveley Park Stud challenge off to a flying start at this year’s Cheltenham Festival in Wednesday’s Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle.
More renowned for their tremendous success on the Flat over many years, the breeding and ownership operation have made a big splash in the jumping game in recent years – enjoying seven winners at the last three Festivals.
The Willie Mullins-trained septet is one of the septet, having proved too strong for stablemate Kilcruit in last season’s Champion Bumper, and returns to the Cotswolds as a warm order for the day two opener following back-to-back hurdles win at Leopardstown.
“All is good with Sir Gerhard. Willie (Mullins) was mulling over whether to run in the Supreme or the Ballymore, he has a very good team behind him and we’re backing the team,” said Cheveley director Richard Thompson.
“The Ballymore looks the slightly weaker race and Willie thinks this a horse that can do anything.
“I think we’ve got to be confident – we hope he’ll win.
“The only thing is we’ve had seven winners from 15 runners at the Festival in the last three years and surely we can’t carry on with that sort of strike-rate!
“Sir Gerhard is certainly one of our big shots this year, so fingers crossed.”
Mullins also saddles Whatdeawant and Haxo, while a formidable Irish contingent includes Gordon Elliott’s Three Stripe Life – runner-up to Sir Gerhard last month – and the unbeaten Journey With Me from Henry de Bromhead’s yard.
The latter, ridden by Rachael Blackmore, carries the colours of last year’s winner Bob Olinger.
The home team is headed by the Paul Nicholls-trained Stage Star, who is three from three since going hurdling and has been kept fresh since winning the Challow at Newbury in December.
“He’s a lovely young horse who is unbeaten (over hurdles) and I’m looking forward to running him,” said Nicholls.
“He couldn’t have done any more or been more impressive. I could have run him once more (at Exeter), but I didn’t want to give him that hard a race and wanted to keep him fresh so we can perhaps go to Cheltenham and Aintree.
“He’s certainly got plenty of ability. He’s followed the same sort of route as Bravemansgame and if he’s as good as him, we’ll be well happy.”
Nicky Henderson, who last won the Ballymore with Simonsig a decade ago, this year runs I Am Maximus.
Scarface (Colin Tizzard) and Hemlock (Tom Gibney) complete the line-up.