Nicky Henderson is pleasantly surprised by how quickly Fusil Raffles has come to hand this season, allowing him to kick off his campaign in Saturday’s Unibet Elite Hurdle at Wincanton.
Having arrived from France with a tall reputation this time last year, the Seven Barrows handler waited until Kempton’s Adonis Juvenile Hurdle before showing the public what he was capable of.
The result was a devastating display which saw him promoted to the head of the betting for the Triumph Hurdle, but he picked up an injury in the race and was forced to miss Cheltenham.
However, Fusil Raffles did gain compensation with victory at the Punchestown Festival and Henderson reports him to be fit for action already, while his Cheltenham and Aintree-winning stablemate Pentland Hills requires a little more time.
“He has come to hand quicker than I thought he would three weeks ago,” said Henderson.
“In Ireland he was very impressive, but then he was at Kempton too.
“He just got that injury that kept him out of Cheltenham, but I was lucky I had Pentland Hills sitting in the background and luckily we collected all the Grade One juvenile races at the end of the season.
“Pentland Hills has got burly and he is not ready yet and he has turned into a bull of a horse, so that is why we are going here with Fusil Raffles. I’m happy with Fusil Raffles going into Saturday’s race.”
Paul Nicholls has decided to run Grand Sancy over Quel Destin on account of the ground.
Nicholls said: “Grand Sancy loves good ground and Quel Destin would want really testing ground over a mile-seven around Wincanton, so we might save him for the Greatwood or Ascot.
“If it had been soft, I would have gone the other way round. Grand Sancy ran well at Kempton as he wasn’t fully wound up and it was a prep to take the freshness of him to go chasing really.
“He has improved tonnes for that run. He is levels with the favourite with the penalty he has and that is a lot for a four-year-old. He has won the Kingwell around there and he has improved since then so we decided to let him take his chance.”
Nicholls also fields Christopher Wood with Beat The Judge, Brandon Castle and Top Beak completing the line up.
Colin Tizzard’s Reserve Tank is likely to be a warm order in the John Romans Park Homes “Rising Stars” Novices’ Chase.
A dual Grade One-winning novice hurdler, he made his chasing debut at Chepstow recently, but was beaten into second by Fergal O’Brien’s Jarveys Plate.
Everything looked like going to plan having travelled smoothly and jumped well, but he got in tight to the last, losing momentum, and it cost him victory.
“Thankfully they got rain – we don’t want to take any undue risks as he is a good horse to have going through the season,” said Tizzard.
“The one that beat him at Chepstow is a good horse in his own right, so it is good form.
“He has been doing his normal training and he is ready to go.”
Nicholls runs If You Say Run, a mare who won on her chasing debut at Worcester and was also a decent hurdler.
“She ran well at Worcester the other day. This is a step up in class, but she will like the flatter track and the better ground,” said Nicholls.
“It doesn’t make any difference which way round she goes, but she will have a rail to run up the right hand side on the chase course.
“It was a nice run at Worcester, but I don’t think she really beat much. She jumped well and that was the big thing that stood out, but she will have to again around Wincanton.
“The mares’ allowance will help, but Colin’s horse is the one to beat. She is rated 140 and Colin’s is 150, so she needs that 7lb.”
Six will face the starter with Commanche Red, Garo De Juilley, Le Musee and Solomon Grey completing the field.