Finian’s set for surprise hurdles switch – and he might not be the last
Finian's Oscar is set to have his chasing career interrupted for a tilt at the Sun Bets Stayers' Hurdle – and he may not be the only one after it emerged connections of other high-profile stars are sitting on the fence about moving away from the bigger obstacles.
Yanworth is also under consideration for a switch back to hurdles in March, while fellow leading novice chaser Willoughby Court is expected to be given the option of lining up in the Cheltenham Festival's Thursday showpiece by receiving an entry. The £325,000 contest closes next Tuesday.
Possibly moving in the opposite direction is L'Ami Serge, although the French Champion Hurdle hero remains more likely to feature in the Stayers' – whose market is headed by massive improver Sam Spinner at 4-1 – than the Ryanair Chase, for which he has been entered.
Finian's Oscar had already been a best-priced 25-1 for the Stayers' and 16-1 with those firms offering a non-runner-no-bet concession having been defeated on his most recent two novice chase outings.
Last season he struck at the highest level twice over hurdles, most impressively when scoring by three lengths at Aintree. The six-year-old will first revert to his old job in the Galliardhomes.com Cleeve Hurdle on January 27.
"We're going to switch back to hurdles for the rest of the season, with the aim being to run in the Stayers' Hurdle," said trainer Colin Tizzard. "He jumps fences adequately but I don't think he's that brave.
"If he doesn't nearly win the Cleeve we might go back to the RSA or JLT – and it might not hurt him to have a run over hurdles before returning to fences in any case – but the Cleeve and the Stayers' is our view and what will probably happen.
"I need to look after him. I don't want to run him in a big race over fences at Cheltenham when there's a possibility he could shake them up in the Stayers' Hurdle. On last season's hurdles form you'd have to think he could be a major contender as well."
Tizzard, who said he plans to enter only Finian's Oscar in the Stayers', added: "I'm sure at the moment all trainers are keeping all their options open.
"I don't think for one minute the Stayers' will be an easy race, but there's also no reason why any number of horses won't switch back from fences to have a go at it. Once a horse goes chasing he doesn't have to stay chasing for the rest of his life."
That view is evidently also held by Alan King, who could yet implement a change of plan with JP McManus's Dipper Chase winner Yanworth.
King used his latest Racing Post Weekender column to announce a Stayers' entry would be made.
"All we're doing is keeping all our options but my advice to ante-post punters is to sit tight at this stage," he said.
"He's won twice over fences but the staying hurdle division looks wide open at the moment. I watched Supasundae run Apple's Jade close at Leopardstown and that form would put Yanworth right into the mix – remember, he beat that horse when he won the Liverpool Hurdle.
"He's unexposed over long distances as a hurdler because Aintree was the only time he ran over three miles and the Stayers' Hurdle is a very valuable race this year, so I asked JP McManus if I could enter him to give us the option."
It may conceivably also become an option for Dipper third and 6-1 JLT Novices' Chase favourite Willoughby Court, whose trainer Ben Pauling said: "I wouldn't rule out giving Willoughby Court an entry in the Stayers'. I don't know why we'd suddenly change tack but it gives us another option."
Also handed an extra option is L'Ami Serge, on Tuesday entered in the Ryanair Chase. However, while his next outing will be over fences, it will not be on Sunday at Kelso, where he is engaged.
Anthony Bromley, racing manager to owners Simon Munir and Isaac Souede, said: "He's a better hurdler than chaser, although his best run was in the French Champion Hurdle, which is run over mini fences.
"We'll run him in a chase before the festival, partly to see if he has improved over fences.
"His owners do have Wholestone as well for the Stayers', which is at the back of our minds, but they also have Top Notch for the Ryanair. As such, the intention for L'Ami Serge is still the Stayers' on the way back to the French Champion Hurdle."
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