FINIAN’S OSCAR can set up a tilt at the Stayers’ Hurdle by winning what is set to be an emotional Cleeve Hurdle (3.35) at Cheltenham tomorrow.
There won’t be a dry eye in the house at Prestbury Park if Beer Goggles were to land this prize, just days since the tragic death of his trainer Richard Woollacott aged just 40.
The seven-year-old is likely to go off in front under Richard Johnson in a similar manner to his shock Newbury victory in the Long Distance Hurdle but it’s unlikely his rivals will afford him the same sort of lead here and it’s Colin Tizzard’s unexposed sort who can pick up the pieces.
Finian’s Oscar looked a novice chaser to follow when charging up the Cheltenham hill to beat Movewiththetimes here in November but things have fallen apart since, his jumping coming unstuck at Sandown and Ascot, and Tizzard has now made the correct call to send this talented six-year-old back over timber.
However, his form as a novice hurdler last season puts him bang there as the best of these, readily beating Acting Lass on rules debut at Hereford before landing the Tolworth, and took his form to an altogether different level when a ready winner of the Grade 1 Mersey Novices’ Hurdle at the Aintree Festival.
His unbeaten record was brought to a halt at Punchestown but Finian’s Oscar lost little in defeat that day when beaten by Bacardys, and can put himself right in the picture for the Stayers back here at The Festival in March with victory tomorrow.
It’s a cracking Trials Day at Cheltenham and the Steel Plate and Selections Handicap Hurdle (4.10) closes the card, where Huntsman Son can regain the winning thread under crack conditional James Bowen.
Alex Hales’ eight-year-old has been rapidly on the improve this season, landing back-to-back handicaps off 115 and 122, the latter when easily thrashing 11 rivals at Doncaster.
A fortnight later at Newbury he came unstuck on heavy ground over 2m 4f but Huntsman Son was leading two out in a bizarre race which fell apart, Brave Eagle coming from a different postcode to swoop late on.
I’m more than happy to give Hales’ charge another chance with Bowen booked and he can win off 133 here with plenty of question marks about his main market rivals.
The Sky Bet Chase (3.00) at Doncaster looks a tricky 14-runner puzzle to solve but I’ve come down on Pilgrims Bay for trainer Neil Mullholland.
The eight-year-old put up some fine performances in his debut campaign over fences last season, winning twice from six races including when beating Double Shuffle at Kempton in the BetBright Chase, under an inspired ride from James Best who delivered his charge virtually on the bridle to get up near the line.
That form now reads much better after the former’s huge run in the King George.
Pilgrims Bay is yet to get his nose in front in three starts this season but ran with great credit in the Ladbrokes Trophy and was a staying on second when again given a patient ride by Best at Kempton over Christmas.
Pilgrims Bay is clearly a difficult horse to get right and very much needs coaxing into his races, but it’s an open-looking market given the presence of L’Ami Serge as 3-1 favourite and with doubts over his aptitude for the game, it could be worth chancing Mullholland’s charge at 12-1.