Walsh makes presence felt with impressive raid on Quick Jack
Ruby Walsh jetted over to Cheltenham for one ride and, much to the delight of punters, he made it a winning one.
The Kill, Co Kildare native hadn't ridden in England for seven months and his booking for Tony Martin's Quick Jack in the novices' handicap hurdle attracted plenty of attention.
Quick Jack also attracted plenty of support in the betting ring as the four-year-old – which had been running well on the Flat of late – was backed into 15/8 favourite.
Walsh had to be patient aboard the market leader, but the partnership made stealthy progress two out before seizing the initiative at the last fence.
Deep Trouble valiantly gave chase, but he was ultimately well held by two and a quarter lengths.
"He's a lovely horse and has answered every question we've asked of him," explained Martin. "He warrants a little break after this and we'll see where we stand after Christmas."
Walsh added: "He travelled well and I had plenty of horse under me. Tony has always liked him. He jumped super."
Earlier, Taquin Du Seuil put one over the top-class hurdler Oscar Whisky in what proved a very tactical Steel Plate And Sections Novices' Chase.
Such household names as Imperial Commander and Denman are among the recent winners of the two-and-a-half-mile event, along with Grands Crus and Dynaste more recently, and with just a neck between this highly promising pair at the line, they set a clear standard for the aspirants in this division to follow.
Oscar Whisky, twice star of the Aintree Hurdle at this distance, suffered a fright at his first fence in public when put off his stride by The Cockney Macken nearly refusing right alongside, leaving him in front against jockey Barry Geraghty's will.
The 4/6 favourite could have had no better assistance than Geraghty, who coaxed him out of his shell over the obstacles, but this was never likely to be a soft opening to his new career as Taquin Du Seuil (3/1) won the Challow Hurdle himself and had already made a successful chase debut at Ffos Las.
Tony McCoy and Taquin Du Seuil decided to finally throw down a challenge in earnest over the final couple of fences and the pair were together all the way home.
"You've got to do what you think is right," said McCoy, referring to leaving Oscar Whisky in the lead.
"He was very idle halfway up the run-in when I got by him. It wasn't a nice race to ride in, but it was a nice result.
"I thought he'd quicken up more than he did, to be honest, but he was maybe a bit ring-rusty and it was only up the hill when he got going. It's a nice performance from this horse, giving 5lb away."
His trainer, Jonjo O'Neill, may steer towards the Arkle next March. "I think he's got plenty of pace for two miles and that's the way I wanted to go, but I'm planning it meeting by meeting at the moment rather than looking at the Festival," he said.
"It would be nice to get one more run into him before Christmas. It was a bit of a non-event, they've sprinted over the last two and it didn't tell us a lot really." Oscar Whisky's trainer Nicky Henderson was not disappointed, and said: "He has run fantastic, but the last thing we wanted was for him to do it on his own.
"At the first he slipped and the horse on his inner took him out. After that he jumped great and there's plenty of improvement to come. He's done nothing wrong but it was one of the most farcical races you are ever likely to see."
Balthazar King is a popular sight around these parts and jockey Richard Johnson survived the odd hairy moment to justify his position as 5/4 favourite for the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase, with the Willie Mullins-trained Uncle Junior a length behind.
Philip Hobbs' gelding claims last year's Festival cross-county showpiece among six course wins.
"He's an amazing horse," said Hobbs. "Richard said he felt a bit flat today, so he's due a midwinter break."
The small yard of Robin Dickin houses a fine prospect in Thomas Crapper (16/1), which produced a resolute follow-up to his success at the course's opening meeting in the David Johnson Memorial Handicap Hurdle.
Jockey Charlie Poste said: "I thought this was a much tougher race with 6lb more to carry, but every time he felt horses coming to him, he found more."
Handy Andy (15/2), which ran out of steam late at the October fixture, tanked home for Mikey Legg in the opening Amateur Riders' Handicap Chase.
Nigel Hawke is optimistic the victory of Anay Turge (9/1) in the two-mile handicap chase is a sign of things to come.
"This was the plan for two and a half months," said the former Grand National-winning jockey.