Finian’s Oscar put up a performance of real quality and looked a gelding of rich promise as he readily accounted for some smart prospects in the Grade 1 32Red Tolworth Novices’ Hurdle at Sandown Park.
A field of six went to post for this two mile race with a very rich history.
Chalonnial jumped off ahead of Finian’s Oscar and Capitaine, who had made all last time out, but was settled behind runners on this occasion.
With two flights negotiated, the sextet passed the stands with Chalonnial holding a narrow lead from Finian’s Oscar, but the pace was steady.
Chalonnial and Noel Fehily took the field down the back straight ahead of Finian’s Oscar, with Capitaine to the inside of Charlemar, with Global Stage fifth and the classy flat horse Celestial Path, on his hurdles debut, racing last of the six.
Three out and the field were bunched up behind Chalonnial, with the pace gradually starting to wind-up.
Turning for home, Celestial Path came under pressure and started to drop away, eventually pulling up in the home straight. Up front, Finian’s Oscar and Capitaine flanked and then both passed the long-time leader and the prospect of a battle royale loomed.
However, two out, Capitaine made an error and that gave the initiative to the unbeaten Finian’s Oscar, who went clear of the big grey, under Tom O’Brien.
At the final flight Finian’s Oscar clipped the top and was far from fluent, but had plenty in hand as he climbed the hill and recorded an impressive victory.
Capitaine’s chance was gone once he blundered two from home, but he stayed on to finish second, about five lengths down on the winner. Chalonnial plugged on well for third, ahead of Global Stage.
On his 61st birthday, trainer Colin Tizzard watched his five year old bound to an impressive victory on this huge step up in class. Finian’s Oscar had won a point to point back in October, before landing a Hereford novices’ hurdle just before Christmas.
However, he was smooth and accomplished and handled this big step up in class with ease and looks a potential British-trained star among the present crop of novice hurdlers.
Tizzard said: “He’s a beautiful young horse, but we didn’t know he was going to do that.
“He’s only won a point-to-point and a novices’ hurdle at Hereford, but the way he did it at Hereford, why waste him in a little race when you can have a go at this?
“He justified it (the decision to run) and handled the ground well. He looked in control most of the way and he soon went five lengths clear.
“He stuttered into the last and I thought ‘is he going to stop’, but as soon as Tom got busy, he went on again.
“I would have been disappointed if he didn’t win at Hereford, but coming here today was completely different as it was a proper race back over two miles.
“He probably will run again and then go for one of the races at Cheltenham. He could go any trip, I think the easiest option is to go two and a half, but he’s got the speed for two and he stays.”
As for the winning rider, whose last taste of top-level success came aboard Souffleur in the 2007 Challow Hurdle, he felt Finian’s Oscar is up there with the best he has sat on.
O’Brien said: “I’ve not ridden many horses like him. It was like riding a Grade One horse in a handicap, he does everything so easy. I’ve only won one Grade One, it took me a long time to get on another, so the feeling now is relief.”
There were no complaints from connections of the Paul Nicholls-trained runner-up, with assistant trainer Harry Derham believing they were just beaten by a better horse.
He said: “He ran well, but Sam (Twiston-Davies) said he doesn’t want the ground that deep. We will get him back and make a plan. I think he has been beaten by a very good horse. In my opinion we don’t have any excuses.”