Finian’s Oscar: Our Verdict
Ben Coley, Ben Linfoot and Ian Ogg reflect on Finian's Oscar's Tolworth win and whether he's a bet for Cheltenham.
Finian's Oscar on his way to winning the Tolworth
Last season's winner of the 32Red Tolworth Novices' Hurdle, Yorkhill, went on to win the Neptune Investment Management Novices' Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival and Finian's Oscar is now favourite for that contest as well as being among the market leaders for the Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle.
The £250,000 purchase impressed on his Rules and hurdling debut at Hereford and justified both his price tag and tall reputation when stepping up to Grade One company at Sandown with a relatively facile success.
There were two other races run over the same course and distance and both were won in similar times. The opening juvenile hurdle was won in exactly the same time of 4 minutes 7.50 seconds while the closing handicap was won in a time of 4 minutes 9.20 seconds.
Our team of experts give their verdict on the performance:
It's very hard to be anything but taken with Finian's Oscar and, for once, I think the antepost reaction has been perfectly reasonable.
Most impressive was the way he put the race to bed in a matter of strides and while the fact that the gap narrowed at the line does not raise stamina doubts, it was that electric turn of foot which most impressed.
And there's the rub: I would love to back him for the Sky Bet Supreme if I knew that was the plan, but it seems he's heading to the Neptune and I'm less enthused about his prospects in that.
Not only does Finian's Oscar have the pace for the Supreme, as well as the bloodlines, but the Festival curtain-raiser also lacks a standout candidate at this point.
Moon Racer might yet go for the Champion, Defi Du Seuil is a four-year-old who will surely run in the Triumph, and Willie Mullins' current options are maiden hurdle winners. More than that – they're maiden hurdle winners who are the same price as Finian's Oscar, who just pulverised a good horse in a Grade One.
Those towards the top of the Neptune market have generally achieved more and for that reason I couldn't take 6/1 for the likely target despite the impression he's made so quickly.
If I could guarantee a soft ground Supreme then even the 6/1 NRNB with the sponsors would be strongly considered, but as it stands I have to sit back and await his next start, which will hopefully see him asked to prove himself on a sounder surface.
Should he do that, flaws would be increasingly hard to find.
The time comparisons perhaps don't shine a positive light on Finian's Oscar's Tolworth, especially with the two similar times coming from a juvenile having his second run over hurdles and an eight-year-old handicap hurdler having his ninth.
However, Finian's Oscar was having just his second start over hurdles himself, was carrying more weight than the other two winners and he won this race comfortably, putting the contest to bed just after the second last where he went from tied for the lead to five lengths clear in the blink of an eye.
Kept up to his work up the hill after that, this was clearly an impressive success from a very useful tool and it was no surprise to see his odds for the Neptune slashed from 16/1 to 6/1 in the aftermath.
He very much looks like he'll go for the intermediate distance of 2m5f at the Festival given stamina looks a strong suit, while he obviously isn't short of speed. Spring ground is an unknown variable, but he looks such a good mover and no problems are anticipated on that score.
If he does have an alternative option at Cheltenham it's the Sky Bet Supreme Novices', for which he is 6/1 with the sponsors who are 'Non Runner No Bet' on the race. Competitors who don't offer that concession are a best of 12s.
The one thing that might persuade Tizzard to go the two-mile route is that this year's Supreme doesn't appear to have any Mullins superstars in it to avoid, as yet. But, as things stand, the Neptune looks a more obvious route with him.
Does he deserve to be favourite? I think he probably does. The Tolworth has a good recent record when it comes to producing big-race winners and Yorkhill did the Sandown-Cheltenham double in the Neptune last season.
He could be a superstar. He certainly looks a horse with a very bright future. Would I back him at 6/1 for the Neptune? I suspect not, if only because of the knowledge he was available at 16s earlier on Saturday afternoon and his other options.
But I'm very much looking forward to seeing him strut his stuff at the Festival.
If you were truly blown away by Finian's Oscar then it's worth remembering that several firms have priced up horses 'to win any race at the Cheltenham Festival' and he's a 3/1 chance with Sky Bet in that market.
The strength of this year's Tolworth is open to question as Capitaine set the standard and holes can be picked in the form of his Grade Two win at Ascot. However, his trainer – Paul Nicholls – clearly holds him in high regard and that has to count for something.
It was surprising that more use wasn't made of Capitaine given he made all at Ascot and disappointed on heavy ground at Haydock prior to that when ridden with more restraint. It was a decision that appeared to make no logical sense from the outside.
However he was ridden, it's doubtful that it would have changed the result as Finian's Oscar pulled right away (even allowing for Capitaine's late mistake which knocked some stuffing out of him as he was trying to fight back) to score impressively and further enhance a reputation that was large enough before he'd run under Rules.
He really does look to be a very exciting prospect and the fact that he seemed to surprise Colin Tizzard with the manner of his performance can only be a good thing but as the two Bens have pointed out, getting him onside antepost is fraught with danger as it's nigh on impossible to second guess where he might end up.
The stable do have a decent guide to the form on this side of the Irish Sea having saddled Elegant Escape to finish fourth in the Challow Hurdle at Newbury so they will have a fair idea where they stand with leading NEptune contender Messire Des Obeaux and they're clearly not running scared of Alan King's runner.