Fusil Raffles showed his mettle after missing Cheltenham through injury when taking the Grade One honours in the AES Champion Four Year Old Hurdle at Punchestown.
Nicky Henderson’s lightly-raced gelding had impressed when winning the Adonis Hurdle at Kempton in February, but cut himself in doing so and had to forego a crack at the Triumph as well as being ruled out of Aintree.
However, Fusil Raffles (13-8 favourite) rewarded the patience of connections with a strong performance to head long-time leader Fakir D’Oudairies at the final flight and go on to beat his battle-hardened main market rival by two and three-quarter lengths in the hands of Daryl Jacob.
“He was great. He’s done very well to get back from the injury he had at Kempton, it was horrible,” said Henderson.
“Obviously he had to miss Cheltenham and he had no chance of getting to Aintree, so it was just whether we had time to get back for this.
“To be fair, Sarah that looks after him has worked her socks off with the cut. It was on his hind leg and that’s why he’s got the boots on, to protect him.
“There is still a wound there, but it’s covered up. Credit to everybody – the vets who stitched him together at Kempton and our guys at home, and Sarah in particular, because it’s been a great effort to get him back.
“Fair play to him, he must be a good horse because I was nervous that he wouldn’t be quite ready for a battle like that both mentally and fitness wise. We only started training him three weeks ago, so he’s a tough horse and a good one.
“We’re very lucky because we found him and then he got wounded. Then a week later I found a thing called Pentland Hills (Triumph Hurdle winner) hiding in a corner!”
Jacob said: “He’s a nice horse and will go on a bit softer ground as well. They have done a fantastic job here with the ground all week and you couldn’t fault it.
“I was confident enough, but to be fair to the second horse, he quickened again off the bend and just as I got to him he had a little bit of a blow.
“He’d a big jump at the last and that sealed it. Please god he’s got a big campaign next year and it was nice to see him go and do that today.”