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."
6 December 2013Bec puzzler for Lavelle
Moore's Vino is vintage stuff
Mullins sets sights on Navan
Captain taking charge for Henderson
George plots Aintree gold rush
King out to reign in Henry VIII
Newcastle in talks over AW track
Carberry sidelined for weekend
Sir champing at bit for Durkan date
Dunaden 'back to his best'
Glance sights fixed on Cup glory
Strawbridge coy over Cloud future
Baby on board for Becher
Sire out to profit from Sacre blow
Queen awarded ROA honour
Three-month ban for Arnold
Contrite Butler must 'rebuild life'
Nicholls watching ground for Roque
Topper tests Future waters
Murphy hit by nine-day ban
Big field for Becher
Sacre forced out of Sandown return
Cadeaux team enjoying the ride
Lantern burning bright once more
5 December 2013Rasen survives wind scare
Festival switch for Mares' race
Sacre out of Tingle Creek
No luck for Jwala in Sprint draw
Aigles well ahead of fourth Cup bid
Rasen to check on wind
Butler considers ban response
Court team eyeing Huntingdon return
Oscar on course for Cheltenham
Cantlow in Cheltenham frame
Juddmonte "not for sale"
Noseda content with Grand journey
Cloud future hinges on Mile outcome
Road charts route towards Becher
Knight backs Somersby to shine
4 December 2013Butler handed five-year ban
Rain key to Azorian Navan bid
Greatrex ponders Baby gameplan
Pipe tinkers with Crus schedule
Fahy eyes Morning glory in Topaz
Verse goes for a song at Tatts
King brings up personal milestone
King issues bleak Invictus update
Tatenen chasing December gold
Rocky revved up for Lexus
Sir and Star set for Durkan date
Sandown heat attracts novice stars
Bolster aiming for confidence boost
Hill faces Becher test
3 December 2013British pair head Power weights
Sea sidesteps Exeter date
Madison Du Berlais dies of colic
Huxley retired from the saddle
Lynam hoping for winning Power
Mullins maps Sceaux plan
Wrist injury sidelines Dalton
Bob on World trail
Sacre a doubt for Tingle Creek
Europe sets sail for Leopardstown
Mullins banks on Hurricane progress
Stellar turnout for Lexus
Wishfull heads Sefton contenders
Junior at Becher summit
Fenton big-hitters near return
Tank team consider options