Fusil Raffles landed short odds with a workmanlike performance in the Unibet Elite Hurdle at Wincanton.
Nicky Henderson’s four-year-old was forced to miss Cheltenham and Aintree last season, but returned from injury to land a Grade One at Punchestown.
Fusil Raffles was getting 3lb from Paul Nicholls’ Grade Two winner Grand Sancy here, but he made a crucial mistake at the second last as the market leaders settled down to battle it out.
Grand Sancy had Fusil Raffles and Daryl Jacob under pressure at that stage, but he guessed at the flight and in an instant Fusil Raffles had the advantage.
To his credit Grand Sancy did not go down without a fight, but the 4-7 favourite held on by three-quarters of a length.
Henderson told ITV Racing: “I was very nervous, he wasn’t ready for a racecourse to be honest, so I wasn’t expecting it to be easy.
“He’s grown so much in the summer and he hadn’t filled out. I didn’t start with him until about three weeks ago, so I was nervous.
“I wished I’d had three more weeks! There’s a lot more to come, he’s grown a lot and he literally did his first bit of work three weeks ago, so he’s done well.”
Fusil Raffles is one of three Champion Hurdle hopefuls this season for Henderson, with Triumph Hurdle winner Pentland Hills and dual champion Buveur D’Air also in that division.
Henderson added: “Buveur D’Air is in great form and, as usual, will go to the Fighting Fifth. Pentland worked this morning and went well, but he grew outwards while Fusil grew upwards!
“Pentland has grown into a bull of a horse. I just need to get him ready for wherever he goes, I’m struggling to find a race for him because after the Fighting Fifth, there’s a dearth of two-mile races. I don’t want them taking each other on yet.”