Fusil Raffles took a step up in trip in his stride when showing an abundance of stamina to claim the Jockey Club Cheltenham And SW Syndicate Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham.
In a race which appeared to revolve around trainer Nicky Henderson’s other runner, last season’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle third Chantry House, it was his lesser-fancied stablemate who prevailed on his first start over an extended two and half miles.
Given a patient ride by Daryl Jacob, the 16-5 shot wore down leader Lieutenant Rocco on the climb to the line before scoring by three and three-quarter lengths, with 8-11 favourite Chantry House a further 10 lengths adrift in third.
Henderson said: “That’s a good performance giving them weight. I’ve been dying to go up to two and a half. We’ve been frightened to do it because of the ground, yet he has won despite it.
“He has won because he stays. The races kept falling quite nicely at two, that’s why we hadn’t stepped him up. It was too soft last time (when pulled up at Cheltenham last month), but that was on that really bad Saturday.
“It is on a different track today, but that was attritional on that Saturday when it rained after the first race. I had three proper good horses pull up and one won yesterday (Mister Fisher).”
The Seven Barrows handler will now work back from the Marsh Novices’ Chase at the Festival in March, for which Fusil Raffles is 16-1 shot with both Paddy Power and Sky Bet.
He added: “As Daryl said, he has had a hard race today, but he has already had four races. You would imagine he would have one run before the Marsh.”
As for Chantry House, the reigning champion trainer will go back to the drawing board before making any plans.
He added: “Nico (de Boinville) just said he got stuck in the mud. They have said that is very hard work today. He said he was just flat in that and he couldn’t get away from his fences.”
Adagio resumed his progression after returning to winning ways in the JCB Triumph Trial Juvenile Hurdle.
After surrendering his unbeaten record in a Grade Two at the track last time out, the David Pipe-trained three-year-old added to his debut win over hurdles at Warwick with a clear-cut success in the two-mile-one-furlong prize.
Travelling powerfully into contention, the 4-9 favourite sealed matters with a good jump at the last, quickly putting distance between himself and his rivals before crossing the line four and three-quarter lengths clear of runner-up Historic Heart.
Pipe said: “He was in at Doncaster, but we decided to come here. We rode him a bit differently today. He probably got to the front too soon last time and he was outstayed by Duffle Coat.
“This is a more galloping track. We just rode him with a little bit more restraint.
“He did it nicely. He was very professional.”
Adagio was cut from 25-1 into 14-1 by Sky Bet for the Triumph Hurdle, which could be a future target according to Pipe.
He added: “I expect they will all want to go for the Triumph, but he will have an entry in the Fred Winter. We will see what happens. We know he goes on this ground and on better ground, as he won on that first time out.”
Victory for jockey Tom Scudamore saw him move above Noel Fehily to ninth on the list of most successful National Hunt riders.
Scudamore said: “It’s a great honour. It’s fantastic to ride the big winners and things, but when you look at that list to see where you are and being able to do it day in day out gives you an enormous amount of satisfaction.
Scudamore made it a double as Sky Pirate gained an overdue first win over fences with a stylish success in the Spreadex Handicap Chase.
Having finished second five times in his 10 previous chase starts, the Jonjo O’Neill-trained seven-year-old set the record straight when appearing to appreciate a drop down to the extended two miles.
Anchored close to the rear of the field for much of the race, the 4-1 shot made his challenge going over the last before cruising clear of favourite Ibleo up the run in to score by three and three-quarter lengths.
O’Neill said: “It was great. Tom gave him a lovely ride. We always kept feeling he was a bit of an unlucky horse, but we felt the trainer had the trip wrong.
“It is great to have a winner for Martin (Tedham, owner), who is the sponsor of our yard and it couldn’t happen in a better place.
“We were just a little bit worried about the ground being a bit tacky for him, but that didn’t seem to bother him and everything went the right way. He has come good on the right day.
“The Grand Annual might be the race for him, but we will take it steady and go from there.”