Are Grade 1 ambitions justified for improving Tommy's Oscar?

Saturday: 2.00 Haydock
New One Unibet Hurdle (Grade 2) (registered as The Champion Hurdle Trial Race) | 1m7½f | 4yo+ | ITV4/RTV

It is fitting that this race is named after The New One. He won it four times in a row from 2015 in a stellar career that brought a remarkable 20 wins from 40 starts.

However, The New One usually fell short when taking on the best and his record in Grade 1 company showed just two wins from 16 starts, so 14 of his 20 career defeats came at the top level. This race reflects his career in that it’s chock full of horses who are short of top class.

Tommy's Oscar is the only one who could reach the top. He has improved this season and completed a hat-trick with victory in a hot handicap hurdle at Musselburgh on New Year's Day. That was good enough for a Racing Post Rating of 159 and not many have bettered that.

We're talking about Britain here, and not Ireland of course, but a career-best RPR of 159 makes Tommy’s Oscar the fourth-best hurdler in Britain this season. Only Epatante (including 7lb mares' allowance), Not So Sleepy and Sceau Royal have reached 160.

Tommy's Oscar is still 6lb shy of the median RPR for all winners of Grade 1 hurdles in recent seasons, though, and he was partnered by 7lb claimer Tom Midgley when recording that figure of 159. The jockey's allowance hasn’t been factored into the RPR he achieved that day.

If we include Midgley's claim, Tommy's Oscar comes in at 152. That would still leave him with 1lb in hand of market rival Hunters Call, who is now 12, and he should have enough to sneak past him. But all evidence points to Grade 1 ambitions being fanciful.

Tommy's out to book Champion Hurdle place
Rising northern star Tommy's Oscar steps out of handicap company to go on trial for the Champion Hurdle for permit-holder Ann Hamilton's small but powerful stable.

A hat-trick has propelled Tommy's Oscar to an official rating of 156 – and ignited talk of a Cheltenham Festival bid – and he looks to have been presented with a golden opportunity at the weights.

Hamilton's husband Ian, who owns the seven-year-old, said: "We've always liked him, he has a lot of speed and is quick over his hurdles. You can understand his rating as he won so easily at Musselburgh last time.

"I think he'll handle the ground over two miles and the flat track at Haydock suits him. It was testing ground at Carlisle [in October] and he didn't get home, but that was over two and a half miles and he was carrying top weight."

The Hamiltons, who have gained nine victories from a team of just four horses this season, have eyes on having just their second runner at Cheltenham in March.

"We had to put him in the Champion Hurdle as the entries were made before this race and if he happened to win easy enough at Haydock you've got to go for it," added Hamilton.

What they say
Brian Hughes, rider of Navajo Pass
The ground and the track isn't an issue to him, but he's got the penalty for winning the race last year. If he runs a similar race to last year, you'd hope he'd be bang there. His homework has always been decent but he hasn't run as we thought he should be doing, which is the reason he's got the blinkers on. He's well enough at home, looks a million dollars and Donald's [McCain] hores are running great.

Ben Pauling, trainer of Global Citizen
He completely lost his way last season but has shown better form at home this term. He ran well at Doncaster and I think we can draw a line through Ascot last time as everything that ran up with the pace that day fell by the wayside. He's had his wind done since last time and hopefully that will bring out a bit of improvement. He's got an awful lot to do on the ratings, but it didn't look the strongest renewal at the entry stage and we'd be thrilled if he could nick a place.

Olly Murphy, trainer of Hunters Call
He's in the form of his life, having run a cracker at Cheltenham last time. He's got a little bit to find with the favourite [Tommy's Oscar] but that horse is stepping up in class, coming out of handicap company for the first time. I wouldn't swap my lad and we're really looking forward to running him.

Nick Scholfield, rider of Rockadenn
It's very much the softer the better for him as far as the ground is concerned. He's got a bit to find at the weights but if the conditions are testing that'll be a big plus.