Melodic Rendezvous outpointed Puffin Billy in emphatic fashion as they built up for the Cheltenham Festival in the Bathwick Tyres Plymouth Novices' Hurdle at Exeter.
The two smart youngsters cleared away from their three opponents soon after halfway in the heavy ground and it was Puffin Billy, sent off the 4-5 favourite, who was first to look uncomfortable as Leighton Aspell began to get lower in the saddle.
Nick Scholfield, tracking him on Melodic Rendezvous (5-4), sat motionless aboard the Tolworth Hurdle winner until hitting the front after the final flight, after which Jeremy Scott's stable star surged nine lengths clear. Puffin Billy was later reported to be lame.
Scholfield said: "It's very deep ground. Puffin Billy is only five, we're seven and maybe a bit stronger and we've probably handled the ground better.
"We had a plan that we might just beat Puffin Billy for speed, we thought he was more of a stayer than ours. We were looking at the two-mile (Supreme) for Cheltenham, but on this showing, we've outstayed him and we are scratching our heads a bit.
"We were leaning towards the Supreme, but we'll have to wait and see what the ground is nearer the time. If it's good ground, we could look at the Neptune, but if it's soft he might go for the Supreme," he told Racing UK.
Some time afterwards, Puffin Billy was reported lame, trainer Oliver Sherwood's wife Tarnya tweeting: "Leighton was unhappy with Puffin Billy during the race today and he has been pronounced lame by vets."
Kim Bailey's highly-regarded Harry Topper took another step forward in the Bathwick Tyres Taunton Graduation Chase. Compared favourably by the trainer to his Gold Cup star Master Oats, the 5-4 favourite is now unbeaten in three starts over fences.
Jason Maguire spent much of the time at the rear of the small field, but asked Harry Topper to get closer to the action in the final half-mile, and after a little persuasion, the gelding seemed to be lobbing along again at the second-last. He was driven away in the closing stages to beat Hawkes Point be 12 lengths.
Bailey said: "It was a good performance. It's horrible ground. He's a baby, a frame of a horse, but he has a huge engine." Asked if the National Hunt Chase was the plan, he added: "Not necessarily. Cheltenham must be better ground than it has been, and I don't really want to put a gun to his head."
24 January 2017Bargain-buy Desert Queen shines in Leicester feature
Bob Baffert 'honoured' to have another world's best horse in Arrogate
Inspection called for Fakenham card
Cheltenham hopes dashed for American raider Rawnaq
Most Celebrated in Triumph Hurdle picture after Wetherby romp
Bishops Road booked for Grand National Trial defence
National hero Many Clouds primed for Thistlecrack clash
American ace Arrogate named best in the world
Vroum Vroum Mag handed Doncaster engagement
Ar Mad bypasses rearranged Clarence House to wait for Ascot Chase
Min the headline act in Arkle at Leopardstown
Faugheen stars in six for Irish Champion Hurdle
Dewhurst victory the key as Churchill secures champion two-year-old honours
Leicester gets the green light following third inspection
Barry Geraghty thrilled by Jezki reappearance win
Kimberlite Candy team consider weekend options
Wetherby gets the go-ahead following second inspection
California Chrome team confident he can overcome wide Pegasus draw
Churchill crowned leading juvenile performer of 2016
Faugheen and Annie Power clash not ruled out by Willie Mullins
Frost forces another Wetherby check
Leicester call third inspection
Paul Nicholls ponders Politologue plans
Top Gamble back in Clarence House Chase frame at Cheltenham
More Of That given Cheltenham cross-country chase option by Jonjo O'Neill
Harry Fry gives white-hot Unowhatimeanharry Cleeve Hurdle entry
Nicky Richards set to launch dual Doncaster raid in Sky Bet Chase
Kerry Lee considers Thistlecrack Cheltenham clash with Kylemore Lough
Ladbrokes replaces Hennessy as sponsor of Gold Cup at Newbury
Gordon Elliott hoping for Leopardstown rain ahead of Don Poli Gold run
23 January 2017Catchamat lays down Newcastle marker for the Waltons
Briery Queen on course for Cheltenham Festival date
Nicky Henderson rules out Clarence House option for Altior
Leicester call early check due to frost threat
Gallant Gray Wolf River set more realistic targets for next outing
Evan Williams thinking of Aintree for Evening Hush
Ice Cold Soul bags big handicap hurdle prize at Leopardstown
A Toi Phil the latest to benefit from magic touch of Jack Kennedy
Faugheen on course to return for Irish Champion Hurdle defence
Yorkhill still unbeaten over fences after Leopardstown win
All options open for Harry Fry's Haydock hero Neon Wolf
Smart Flat mare Toe The Line off the mark over hurdles
No rush for Jessica Harrington to map out Jezki target
22 January 2017King George VI Chase move would need BHA approval, says Nick Rust
Alary's Haydock disappointment mystifying Tizzard team
Airlie Beach on course for Cheltenham Festival assignment
David Pipe planning one more run with National-bound Vieux Lion Rouge
Warren Greatrex maps out Towton target for Missed Approach
Frozen track claims Fontwell card
Bristol De Mai's day as Alary falters in Peter Marsh at Haydock
Nigel Twiston-Davies salutes The New One after Haydock triumph
Un De Sceaux to run at Cheltenham for rearranged Clarence House Chase
Neon Wolf cuts loose at Haydock to claim Supreme trial
Waiting Patiently pounces at Haydock for Malcolm Jefferson
Deepsand a shore thing at Haydock for Alexander Thorne
Classy Jezki back in business at Navan
Yorkhill faces examination of chasing credentials at Leopardstown
Heartbreak City bids to transfer top Flat form to valuable jumps prize
21 January 2017Pinzolo too sharp for Lingfield rivals
Hereford forced to abandon Sunday card
Hereford inspection brought forward
Clarence House Chase switched to Cheltenham
Sunday check for Hereford card
Fontwell team call inspection ahead of Sunday meeting
Frozen Taunton loses Saturday fixture
Dual Group One winner The Grey Gatsby joins Dermot Weld
Ascot card called off following early-morning inspection
River flows deep for Tim Vaughan at Chepstow
Project Bluebook earns Cheltenham quotes with Musselburgh success
Colin Tizzard earmarks Cleeve Hurdle charge with West Approach
Injury setback for Andrew Thornton but 'this is 100 per cent not the end'
Peter Bowen ponders hurdling return for Henri Parry Morgan
Alan King puts 'progressive' Elgin on trial at Haydock
Dashing grey Politologue takes next step up the ladder at Haydock
The New One primed for Champion Hurdle Trial hat-trick bid
Colin Tizzard wary of Alary's weighty task in Peter Marsh Chase at Haydock