Nicky Henderson’s four-year-old was forced to miss Cheltenham and Aintree last season, but returned from injury to land a Grade One at Punchestown.
Fusil Raffles was getting 3lb from Paul Nicholls’ Grade Two winner Grand Sancy here, but he made a crucial mistake at the second last as the market leaders settled down to battle it out.
Watch the replay in full as Fusil Raffles wins the Elite Hurdle
Grand Sancy had Fusil Raffles and Daryl Jacob under pressure at that stage, but he guessed at the flight and in an instant Fusil Raffles had the advantage.
To his credit Grand Sancy did not go down without a fight, but the 4-7 favourite held on by three-quarters of a length.
Henderson said: “I was very nervous, he wasn’t ready for a racecourse to be honest, so I wasn’t expecting it to be easy.
“He’s grown so much in the summer and he hadn’t filled out. I didn’t start with him until about three weeks ago, so I was nervous.
“I wished I’d had three more weeks! There’s a lot more to come, he’s grown a lot and he literally did his first bit of work three weeks ago, so he’s done well.”
Watch Daryl Jacob's assessment of the performance with Tom Stanley
Jacob added: "I thought he was fit enough to go to war with. I'd worked him a couple of times and thought he was fit enough, but when I came into the paddock and saw the other horses I was a little bit worried.
"He's a very good horse. He's tough. I just don't know whether the softness in the ground has blunted his jumping a little bit, but he's come out on top of a very good horse and you've got to be pleased by that.
"The betting said we were odds-on, but I knew we'd have to dig deep today and that's what he did."
Nicky Henderson gives Tom Stanley the full lowdown after the race
Fusil Raffles is one of three Champion Hurdle hopefuls this season for Henderson, with Triumph Hurdle winner Pentland Hills and dual champion Buveur D’Air also in that division.
Henderson revealed the latest plans for the trio, saying: “Buveur D’Air is in great form and, as usual, will go to the Fighting Fifth. Pentland worked this morning and went well, but he grew outwards while Fusil grew upwards!
“Pentland has grown into a bull of a horse. I just need to get him ready for wherever he goes, I’m struggling to find a race for him because after the Fighting Fifth, there’s a dearth of two-mile races. I don’t want them taking each other on yet.”
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