The Charlie Hall’s complexion changed when defending champion Cyrname was dramatically challenged for the lead on the home bend by the Harry Skelton-ridden Shan Blue, who quickly burst clear.
Skelton and Shan Blue had at least 15 lengths on the faltering Cyrname when crashing out at the third last fence – the view of many was that the champion jockey’s riding had been too impetuous.
Amid gasps of shock from the packed grandstands, Fusil Raffles and Jacob, buoyed by his earlier success on Indefatigable, seized the advantage and jumped the penultimate fence in the lead.
They then cleared the last in fine style to secure a four-and-a-half-length success over Kitty’s Light, the mount of young Jack Tudor, with Clondaw Castle back in third.
This was a second Charlie Hall for the veteran Jacob, who was victorious five years ago on Bristol de Mai, and a first for former champion trainer Nicky Henderson.
Possible longer-term targets for the victor – second in last season’s Grade One Marsh Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham – include the King George VI Chase at Kempton and Ryanair Chase back at Cheltenham. But the winning jockey says Fusil Raffles is still a work in progress.
“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,” said Jacob, retained rider to the winning owners Isaac Souede and Simon Munir. “Unfortunately Harry’s horse fell three out and I can tell you it was a long way to the winning line.
“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 and I think he will have learnt an awful lot from today’s experience.”
The race saw Cyrname jump with great zest before fading as soon as he, and jockey Harry Cobden, were challenged.
“There’s not a lot more we can do, it’s been an issue for all of his career and we’ve got away with it for a while,” rued trainer Paul Nicholls.
“They know how to take him on and Harry (Skelton) took him on far enough from home and there was nothing in the tank then. Harry (Cobden) says he just goes drunk on him because he can’t breathe. It’s a nightmare really because there isn’t too much more we can do.”
Nicholls believes retirement could be a possible option for the Johnny de la Hey-owned gelding. “I know they (the owners) won’t want to see him running like that, a decision will be made in the next few days,” added the trainer, who was delighted with Frodon and Bryony Frost beating the best of the Irish at Down Royal on a typical roller-coaster afternoon of National Hunt racing.
Dan Skelton was philosophical after Shan Blue fell with the race seemingly at his mercy.
“You can’t dwell on it, the horse is OK, we know he’s a good horse,” he said.
“We’re missing a trophy today, but at least we’re not missing a horse.”
Earlier, Paul Webber’s Indefatigable became the third mare in five years to win the bet365 Hurdle – formerly the West Yorkshire Hurdle – after the aforementioned Jacob took a wide course in search of better ground.
The success more than vindicated the horse’s prep run – and win – on the flat at Pontefract, but the disappointment was former Stayers’ Hurdle winner Paisley Park, who was third.
Jockey Aidan Coleman reported the Emma Lavelle-trained horse to be “a bit rusty” before adding: “I think he’ll be back with that run under his belt and a better experience he can go forward.”