Melodic hits right note
Melodic Rendezvous asserted superiority over Puffin Billy by nine lengths in the Bathwick Tyres Plymouth Novices' Hurdle at Exeter.
Two of the country's smartest youngsters had been drawn together for this Listed event, and the market could barely decide between them with Oliver Sherwood's Puffin Billy sent off the 4-5 favourite after an unbeaten start to his career.
While Melodic Rendezvous (5-4) had 5lb to find on the ratings, he had already provided trainer Jeremy Scott and jockey Nick Scholfield with their first Grade One success in the Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown and turned the figures on their head on the wet Devon ground.
The pair were alone entering the home straight as the other three starters dropped away, but Leighton Aspell began to get lower in the saddle while Scholfield sat motionless aboard Melodic Rendezvous and surged clear on the run-in.
"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 today," said Scholfield.
"I was keeping an eye on Leighton turning in, and he wasn't going as well as Leighton would have expected. We had a plan that we might just beat Puffin Billy for speed, we thought he was more of a stayer than ours."
The race was won by subsequent Supreme Novices' winner Noland in 2006 but the ground will determine the chestnut's future.
Scholfield said: "We were looking at the two-mile race 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."
Harry Topper was the other star in the making on a good card as he took another step forward in the Bathwick Tyres Taunton Graduation Chase.
Compared favourably by trainer Kim Bailey to his Gold Cup winner Master Oats, the 5-4 favourite is now unbeaten in three starts over fences.
Jason Maguire asked Harry Topper to get closer to the action in the final half-mile and after a little persuasion, he seemed to be lobbing along again at the second-last and went on to pull 12 lengths away from Hawkes Point.
"It was a good performance," said Bailey.
"It's horrible ground. He's a baby, a frame of a horse but he has got a huge engine.
"He never shows a lot at home but Jason said there was huge improvement from the first time he rode him."
Bailey was asked whether Harry Topper would now head for the John Oaksey National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham, for which Paddy Power have him as 6-1 favourite.
"Not necessarily," he said. "We will see how he comes out of today. Cheltenham must be better ground than it has been and I don't really want to put a gun to his head.
"He needs looking after, but the four-miler is the most suitable of the races for him to go for."
Sherwood had the consolation of a double on the afternoon, with Many Clouds (2-1) thwarting Paul Nicholls' Irish recruit Just A Par in the Bathwick Tyres "National Hunt" Novices' Hurdle.
"The two of them have ended up pulling a long way clear of the third horse, which I am always told is a good sign," Sherwood told Racing UK.
"I don't think he'll go to Cheltenham. The plan was the EBF Hurdle at Sandown but that might have scuppered it. There are plenty of other races, possibly at Aintree and Ayr, and chasing will eventually be his game."
Rouge Et Blanc (11-4 favourite) who was once Sherwood's hack, followed up his win at Huntingdon on Thursday in the Bathwick Tyres Barnstaple Handicap Chase.
Colin Tizzard's Theatrical Star (7-2) got away from 6-4 favourite Colour Squadron in the Bathwick Tyres Bridgwater Novices' Chase, while David Pipe and Tom Scudamore mopped up both divisions of the Bathwick Tyres-sponsored bumpers with Vieux Lion Rouge (4-5 favourite) and The Liquidator (1-4 favourite).