Stage Star has the potential to stand out, but why are there such a limited number of New Year contenders?

The elegant jumper has an opportunity to surpass competitors and establish himself as the finest 2.5-mile chaser in either Britain or Ireland.
The traditional New Year’s Day card at Cheltenham – which is also the first of 170 “Premier” racedays in a new top tier for the sport in 2024 – has attracted only 36 runners for its six jumps events, with just six horses, the smallest field this century, declared for the most valuable race on the card, the £100,000 Paddy Power New Year’s Day Chase.
However, it does offer a rare chance to witness a Grade One winner attempting to give weight away in a handicap. Stage Star, who became the favorite for the Ryanair Chase in March after winning the big handicap chase at the November meeting, aims to follow up with a victory off an 11lb higher rating.
Last time out, Stage Star competed with a rating of 155 and carried 11st 7lb on his back, while The Real Whacker – similar to Stage Star, a Grade One-winning novice at the 2023 Cheltenham festival – carried the top weight of 12st. Stage Star’s impressive triumph in itself was notable as he became the first handicap chase winner with a rating of 155+ in 2023. A win on Monday would elevate him to an even more exclusive group.
Since the beginning of 2003, only nine horses have managed to overcome a rating of 166 or higher in a handicap chase. Greaneteen, who won the Haldon Gold Cup off a rating of 168 in November 2022, is the only one to do so since Sire De Grugy in February 2015. Seventeen horses attempted but failed during the same period.
These statistics may be daunting for those supporting the favorite, but Stage Star (2.05) won comfortably last time and is expected to improve with every outing. This race will further establish his claim as the best 2.5-mile chaser in Britain or Ireland.

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