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."
21 December 2014Mogol makes it look easy
Derby hero Chaparral put down
Saphir adds sparkle to Feltham
Mullins star among Christmas seven
Walsh thrilled with Sceaux spin
February return likely for That
Lough still in Lexus frame
Billy fine after Ascot spill
Hanlon hoping Cyclone strikes
Milan primed for Chepstow return
Henderson pleased with big guns
Mulholland serves up Master-class
Bayan bags big Ascot prize
Broadway proves a show-stopper
Three Long Walks for super Sivola
Queen wears Listed crown
Nicholls strikes with Saint
Sceaux puts in impressive show
Silvi the star turn in King George
20 December 2014Sceaux puts in impressive show
Geraghty enthused by Bobs work
Walsh pain at Vautour defection
Billy puffing his chest out again
Master back in the spotlight
Grugy in line to start cantering
Newland seeks more from Re
Prize money boost in HRI initiative
Zig zips to impressive victory
New steroids policy delayed
Serge states Supreme case
Exciting Sceaux out at Fairyhouse
Firebird skips National service
19 December 2014Martin readying big guns
Hobbs on Garde at Ascot
Fry excited by Activial chance
The New One in Haydock return
Reve camp not expecting a hat-trick
King issues Chatez Triumph warning
Bolger searching for Mossey key
King weighs up Karezak options
Henderson hoping Bobs makes Lexus
Simonsig camp play the long game
In-form Mole buries Exeter rivals
Sedgefield hit with heavy fine
Star names check in for Ryanair
Bobs revved up for Lexus repeat
Knott disqualified for three years
Geraghty braced for power Serge
Geraghty excited by Josses return
Activial stars in Ladbroke field
18 December 2014Alvarado back for National service
Winner given Lexus go-ahead
Cheltenham dreams for King's Zero
Sivola bids for Long Walk hat-trick
Power plan uncertain for Westener
Kauto pleases in Olympia display
Mullins eyes twin assault on Lexus
Value oozes class in Newbury romp
Annie Power on road to recovery
Spencer strikes after U-turn
Vautour ready for next jumps test
Mullins banks on Faugheen progress
Victory set to skip Ladbroke
Mullins: Fever can go the distance