Third Wind held on from the rallying Lisnagar Oscar to provide Hughie Morrison with a big-race winner in the William Hill Rendlesham Hurdle at Haydock.
Not currently in the Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham, the winner was beating last year’s Stayers’ hero, who in turn was returning to form following a wind operation for Rebecca Curtis.
The runner-up was in fact giving 6lb to the winner and only went down by half a length, so it was no surprise to see Lisnagar Oscar cut to 16-1 from 25s for a Festival repeat by Betfair.
Third Wind was dropped right in at the rear by Tom Cannon, as Donna’s Diamond and Lisnagar Oscar ensured it was a true test.
When Donna’s Diamond dropped away, Sean Bowen was left in the lead and held a two-length advantage at the third-last.
Third Wind was closing all the time and took up the running after the final flight, but to Lisnagar Oscar’s credit – and to Curtis’ delight – he battled all the way to the line to be beaten just three-quarters of a length.
The two big disappointments were last year’s winner Emitom and Itchy Feet, both of whom were back over hurdles having been chasing.
“We didn’t put him in the Stayers’ Hurdle because we thought he got beaten fair and square at Ascot (in the Long Walk),” said Morrison.
“He obviously enjoys a flat track and I think he won with a bit in hand probably, he doesn’t do a lot when he hits the front.
“But he was getting 6lb from the second and I think that would put him fourth or fifth in the Stayers’ Hurdle.
“I haven’t spoken to the owner yet and we’ll sit back and enjoy this – and if the owners can’t go to Cheltenham, they’re less interested in going as well. The race at Aintree might appeal.”
Cannon said: “I’ve ridden against him a few times, but this was the first time I’d ridden him. I’d spoken to Tom O’Brien who usually rides, and obviously Hughie who gave me the lowdown.
“We were lucky they went a good gallop and he got in a good rhythm. I was able to stay on the rail, but I didn’t want to hit the front too soon as it’s such a long run-in.
“I was thinking if I had to take a pull and come round that wouldn’t matter, but as it happened I got a clean run.”
For Curtis, all roads now lead to the defence of Lisnagar Oscar’s Stayers’ Hurdle crown.
“I’m really pleased with that. We gave him a wind op and it’s clearly worked. I’m delighted,” she said.
“It’s not easy giving weight away so I’m delighted and it’s next stop Cheltenham.
“Some might have thought it was a fluke last year, but we never have and he always runs his best races at Cheltenham.”