PEMBROKESHIRE racehorse trainer Rebecca Curtis could take plenty of heart from a strong run by Lisnagar Oscar at Haydock Park - and all roads now lead to the defence of the Stayers' Hurdle crown at Cheltenham next month.

Lisnagar Oscar, ridden by Sean Bowen of Little Newcastle, at 6-1, was ahead at the final fence, but finished a close second to Hughie Morrison's seven-year-old Third Wind, who came in at 9-2, to land the William Hill Rendlesham Hurdle honours.

Along with 4-1 co-favourites Itchy Feet and On The Blind Side, Lisnagar Oscar came through on the turn for home, but Third Wind jockey Tom Cannon had played a waiting game to finish strongly in the three-mile Grade Two contest.

As Itchy Feet dropped away, Third Wind came through to hit the front over final hurdle and held on by three-quarters-of-a-length from Lisnagar Oscar, with Nicky Henderson’s On The Blind Side a length-and-three-quarters further adrift in third.

Curtis, from Newport, Pembrokeshire, has confirmed that her eight-year-old is on course to defend the Stayers’ Hurdle crown at Cheltenham against the likes of Paisley Park and Thyme Hill, and there was plenty to be pleased about the performance.

“I'm really pleased with that, we gave him a wind op and it's clearly worked, so I'm delighted,” said Curtis, whose horse has had a breathing operation since his last appearance.

"It's not easy giving weight away, so I'm delighted, and it's next stop Cheltenham, where some might have thought it was a fluke last year - but we never have, and he always runs his best races at Cheltenham.”

Lisnagar Oscar, who outran odds of 50-1 to cause a big surprise in the Paddy Power-backed Grade One last March, is best-priced 25-1 with bet365 and as low as 16-1 with some firms for this year’s race at Cheltenham, behind 10-3 favourite Paisley Park.

After finishing fourth in a Grade Two at Wetherby, and then seventh in Newbury’s Long Distance Hurdle in November, Lisnagar Oscar was declared to run in a handicap off top weight at Exeter, but Curtis withdrew him because of the testing conditions.

"My faith hasn't been dented, definitely not, I think he's as good as last year - and we've found an excuse for those last couple of runs in that he needed his wind doing, so we'll see how he gets on,” added Curtis, who had a winner earlier in the week.

Consistent Pembrokeshire jockey Sean Bowen had rode to victory at Hereford in the three-mile Novices’ Handicap Chase on Minella Bobo, trained by Curtis, to follow up a second place for Curtis on Tinkers Hill Tommy in the Class Four Handicap Chase at Chepstow earlier in the month.

There were two further wins for Sean Bowen at the weekend at Haycock Park, as he won the Class Two Extra Places Every Day Juvenile Hurdle on Monmiral, and the Class Three Open Hunters’ Chase on Bob And Co, both trained by Paul Nicholls.