Fusil Raffles prevails in eventful Charlie Hall
All the attention ahead of the Grade Two contest was on defending champion Cyrname, who was a fine winner last year before his season tailed off and he underwent wind surgery over the summer.
Sent off an 85-40 chance, Cyrname took up his usual prominent position through the early stages and was still in front until Harry Skelton decided to kick on aboard 2-1 favourite Shan Blue at the turn for home.
The second-season chaser quickly built up a healthy lead only to get the third-last all wrong and crash out.
That gave the rest of the field a second bite of the cherry and it was Fusil Raffles and Daryl Jacob who seized the advantage, jumping the penultimate fence in the lead.
He then cleared the last in fine style to secure a four-and-a-half-length success over Kitty’s Light with Clondaw Castle back in third.
Cyrname was pulled up before the last and Nicholls reported his charge to have suffered breathing issues again.
He said: “He choked again and once he choked, that was it. One minute he was going and the next he wasn’t.”
Dan Skelton was philosophical after Shan Blue fell with the race seemingly at his mercy.
It wasn't very nice but he's OK, he'd have hacked up
“The horse is all right, Harry’s all right. Good jumpers, when they have a fall, they have a bad fall. It wasn’t very nice but he’s OK, he’d have hacked up,” he said.
“The fence is in the wrong spot, what can you do? It’s happened to Ruby Walsh. These things happen. I was delighted with him, we know he’s a very, very good horse.
“He’s in the Hennessy and he’ll have an entry in the King George. We’ve just got to see, but it was terribly frustrating.
“Everyone’s all right, it’s just racing. One minute you’re winning a two-mile race with Molly Ollys Wishes, the next minute that happens.
“You can’t dwell on it, the horse is OK, we know he’s a good horse. We’re missing a trophy today, but at least we’re not missing a horse.”
Jacob was delighted with Fusil Raffles’ victory, but admitted he thought he was booked for second at best when Shan Blue went for home.
He said: “He (Shan Blue) quickened after the turn from home and I thought he’d gone unless he didn’t stay, so at that stage I rode to finish second.
“Unfortunately Harry’s horse fell three out and I can tell you it was a long way to the winning line.
I'm very proud of the horse, I think he will have learnt an awful lot from today's experience.
“I’ve no doubt about him (Fusil Raffles), he gets the trip well but I need to teach him the discipline of coming back and relaxing under the bridle rather than going forwards in the bridle.
“(It was) unfortunate circumstances, turning in I thought the winner had flown unless he just didn’t stay, but turning in I thought second was in my grasp. I’m very proud of the horse, I think he will have learnt an awful lot from today’s experience.
“He’s used to attacking his fences, going forward over a shorter trip, whereas today the pace of the race was slightly slower. He got the hang of it a little bit towards the end of the race. He’s all heart, he digs deep for you when he has to.”
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