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'We're missing a trophy but not a horse' - Blue fall hands win to Fusil Raffles

Fusil Raffles: clears the final fence at Wetherby
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Everything was going just too well. For jockey and trainer and for the horse who must go down as the unluckiest loser in Charlie Hall Chase history.

Dan Skelton had followed up his Friday double by landing the Listed mares’ hurdle. And he had also taken the Listed chase at Ascot with Amoola Gold while the runners were in the parade ring here for the Grade 2 contest that has been a stepping stone to all the big staying contests since it was first run in 1969.

Champion jockey Harry Skelton was fresh from reaching 1,000 winners and looked poised to score one of the most important triumphs of his hugely successful career as he burst past last year’s winner Cyrname after the fifth-last fence.

The partnership looked well in command as they straightened for home and were fully 20 lengths clear when they took a crashing fall three out, handing the lead to Fusil Raffles who took full advantage of his good fortune to hold on to win by four and a quarter lengths under Daryl Jacob.

Skelton was soon on his feet and Shan Blue, who had been sent off 2-1 favourite, was also none the worse for his frightening tumble.

Which was the silver lining for the frustrated trainer, who said: “The horse is all right, Harry’s all right. When good jumpers have a fall they have a bad fall and it wasn’t very nice for a minute, but he’s okay. He’d have hacked up. What can you do? It’s happened to Ruby Walsh, these things happen.

“It’s terribly frustrating but there’s no point jumping up and down and screaming about it, it’s just one of those things. Everyone is all right, there will be another day. It’s racing. One minute it runs in your ditch, you win a two-mile race with Molly Ollys Wishes, the next minute that happens. You get up and you drive on, that’s all you can do. You can’t dwell on it.”

Skelton was at least glad that Shan Blue had proved the yard was right to hold him in such high regard, a view bookmakers agreed with, Betfair cutting him to 8-1 (from 25) for the King George and 12-1 (from 66) for the Ryanair Chase.

“I was delighted with him,” the trainer said. “We know he’s a very good horse. I think technically the handicapper can’t adjust him because he fell three out, not two out. He’s in the Ladbrokes Trophy and he’ll also have an entry in the King George.

“We know we’ve got a good horse. We’re missing a trophy, but at least we’re not missing a horse.”

Lucky or not, Jacob was delighted with Fusil Raffles’ win on his first try at three miles.

“You’ll take any winner, obviously,” the jockey said. “I’m very proud of the horse, it was a very different discipline for him and he’d have learned an awful lot from the experience.

“He’s used to attacking his fences and going forward over a shorter trip, but the pace of the race was slightly slower here and I was trying to teach him to come back, relax and pop a few more fences.

“He got the hang of it towards the end of the race. He’s all heart. It was a long three furlongs [after Shan Blue’s fall], but he digs deep for you.”

Cyrname was left in second when Shan Blue fell but was pulled up by Harry Cobden before the last with a breathing problem that may force him into retirement.

Trainer Paul Nicholls said: “He choked again. It’s been an issue all his career and we got away with it for a little while. It’s a nightmare really because there isn’t too much more we can do.

“If he was going to run again the only option would be on an easy track, or we could gracefully retire him. They won’t want to go on seeing him run like that, so it’s a decision we’ve got to make in the next few days. If they can’t breathe you’re in trouble.”

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We’ve still got a little bit of work to do with him but he’s been a wonderful horse for me
E.W. Terms