Raymond Tusk got the better of a thrilling duel with French raider Funny Kid to claim top honours in the Betway Conditions Stakes at Newcastle.
A field of eight runners went to post for the £21,000 feature at Gosforth Park, with a guaranteed start in the £150,000 Betway All-Weather Marathon on All-Weather Championships Finals Day up for grabs.
Returning to action little over a month after finishing down the field in the Melbourne Cup, the Richard Hannon-trained Raymond Tusk was the 11-4 favourite in the hands of Tom Marquand and travelled strongly for much of the two-mile contest.
Christophe Ferland’s 2018 All-Weather Marathon winner Funny Kid emerged as a serious threat, but following a pulsating battle during the final furlong, Raymond Tusk passed the post half a length the good.
Mildenberger was best of the rest in third.
Marquand said: “To be fair, the race worked out as perfectly as I hoped it would. Mildenberger went forward and made the running, although I actually thought he would take me a bit further into the race.
“The French horse (Funny Kid) forced our hand from a good way out, but Raymond Tusk wears his heart on his sleeve and toughed it out well.
“The one thing my horse doesn’t want is a sprint finish and two miles at a sensible gallop was spot on for him today. I only had to give him a couple of flicks and he was always just motoring on.”
Whether Raymond Tusk heads to Lingfield on Good Friday (April 10) remains to be seen.
“Obviously, speed can be a bit more important at Lingfield, but if does go there they will hopefully go a good gallop and it can play into his hands,” Marquand added.
“He is pretty versatile as to how you can ride him – he can be handy or he can be dropped in, as long as the tempo is good for him.
“There are a lot of options for him. The new the races they are putting on in Saudi Arabia could maybe also be an option. I am only speculating, but hopefully there are a few nice targets for him next year.”