Cheltenham absentee Fusil Raffles gains Punchestown compensation
Benie Des Dieux puts a dramatic fall at Cheltenham behind her at Punchestown
Fusil Raffles ridden by Daryl Jacob on his way to winning the AES Champion Four Year Old Hurdle. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho
Fusil Raffles showed his mettle after missing Cheltenham through injury when taking the Grade One honours in the AES Champion Four Year Old Hurdle at Punchestown.
Nicky Henderson’s lightly-raced gelding had impressed when winning the Adonis Hurdle at Kempton in February, but cut himself in doing so and had to forego a crack at the Triumph as well as being ruled out of Aintree.
However, Fusil Raffles (13-8 favourite) rewarded the patience of connections with a strong performance to head long-time leader Fakir D’Oudairies at the final flight and go on to beat his battle-hardened main market rival by two and three-quarter lengths in the hands of Daryl Jacob.
“He was great. He’s done very well to get back from the injury he had at Kempton, it was horrible,” said Henderson.
“Obviously he had to miss Cheltenham and he had no chance of getting to Aintree, so it was just whether we had time to get back for this.
“To be fair, Sarah that looks after him has worked her socks off with the cut. It was on his hind leg and that’s why he’s got the boots on, to protect him.
“There is still a wound there, but it’s covered up. Credit to everybody — the vets who stitched him together at Kempton and our guys at home, and Sarah in particular, because it’s been a great effort to get him back.
“Fair play to him, he must be a good horse because I was nervous that he wouldn’t be quite ready for a battle like that both mentally and fitness wise. We only started training him three weeks ago, so he’s a tough horse and a good one.
“We’re very lucky because we found him and then he got wounded. Then a week later I found a thing called Pentland Hills (Triumph Hurdle winner) hiding in a corner!”
Earlier, Benie Des Dieux put a dramatic fall at Cheltenham behind her to lead home a whitewash for Willie Mullins in the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Annie Power Mares Champion Hurdle.
Successful in this race 12 months ago, Benie Des Dieux took a crashing fall at the final flight on her first start of this term at Prestbury Park but made made amends in tremendous style.
Stormy Ireland, one of her two stablemates, set out to make it a proper test with Mullins’ other runner Good Thyne Tara her closest pursuer.
This Grade One contest soon became a Mullins monopoly as Tintangle was pulled up before the sixth flight after losing many lengths at the start while With Discretion was outclassed on her first run for over a year.
Paul Townend brought Benie Des Dieux (2-5 favourite) to head Stormy Ireland between the last two flights and swept clear to score by nine and a half lengths. Good Thyne Tara filled the third spot, a further 15 lengths away.