Finian's Oscar lays down marker
Colin Tizzard's big-race run continued at Sandown on Saturday as Finian's Oscar put his rivals to the sword in the Grade One 32Red Tolworth Novices' Hurdle.
Hot on the heels of Thistlecrack's King George win, Cue Card's Betfair Chase success, and the victories of Native River in the Hennessy and Welsh National, Tizzard now appears to have a contender for top novice honours.
The 11/10 favourite cruised to the front and survived a slow leap at the last to win by five lengths from Capitaine under Tom O'Brien, who was riding just his second Grade One winner.
The winner is now the general 6/1 favourite for the Neptune at Cheltenham in March.
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 novice 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."
Winning rider O'Brien, whose last taste of top-level success came aboard Souffleur in the 2007 Challow Hurdle, believes that Finian's Oscar is up there with the best he has sat on.
"It was like riding a Grade One horse in a handicap, he does everything so easy," O'Brien said.
"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."
The final of the 32Red Veterans' Handicap Chase series boasted a very healthy first prize of £61,900 and it went to the joint-oldest horse in the race, 13-year-old Pete The Feat.
Charlie Longsdon's popular chaser normally front-runs but he left those duties to stablemate Loose Chips, who stayed on for third.
Pre-race favourite was David Pipe's Dynaste, but he put up another lacklustre show in seventh and will now enjoy his retirement.
"We haven't had a winner since December 14, they've been running well but not winning so it's a relief," said Longdson of his 20/1 victor. "Pete The Feat has been a legend for years, it's the 10th win of his career."
Aidan Coleman was on board and had earlier won on the promising Don Bersy (7/1) for Tom Symonds in the 32Red Casino Juvenile Hurdle to earn some Cheltenham Festival quotes.
Fighting Fifth Hurdle hero Irving is set to make his next appearance in the StanJames.com Champion Hurdle Trial at Haydock later this month.
The nine-year-old looked every inch a top-class performer when winning the Newcastle feature in 2014, but results have been mixed since.
He was bitterly disappointing when defending his crown at Gosforth Park the following year and finished tailed-off on his only other start of the season in the Kingwell Hurdle at Wincanton.
However, he got it all together in late November to regain his Fighting Fifth crown, seeing off subsequent Hatton's Grace winner Apple's Jade by a nose.
RIDE OF THE WEEK
Taken on by tearaway Rory O'Moore, Andrew Ring did not panic on Moores Road at Cork on Saturday, and got the fractions spot-on for an all-out win.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
"I don't know but he's bloody good, I'll tell you that."
- Colin Tizzard, asked would Alary run at Newbury next month.
TWEET OF THE WEEK
No doubt @tommyscu has a massive future in TV when he finishes riding. Excellent.
Racing Post editor Bruce Millington (@brucemillington) is a fan of Tom Scudamore.
GAMBLE OF THE WEEK
Ger Lyons had a treble at Dundalk on Friday and it was impossible to know if any was fancied until minutes before the off. On Betfair, Mawaany, a neck winner, seemed dead - out to 5/2 - only to be smashed into 6/5 in the space of about two minutes. Wall Street stuff.