Oscar Whisky emerged as a potent Champion Hurdle understudy to stablemate Binocular when completing a high-profile 15/1 double for Nicky Henderson and Barry Geraghty in the Cheltenham & Three Counties Club Hurdle.
Last season's Supreme Novices' Hurdle fourth returned to the fray with as exciting a performance as we have seen from a hurdler in Britain this season, bar possibly that of Menorah in the International.
Stepping up to two and a half miles and the subject of widespread support, the six-year-old toyed with solid yardsticks such as Karabak and Celestial Halo, and then found another gear to go seven lengths clear of Any Given Day when Geraghty changed his hands approaching the final flight. William Hill slashed his Champion Hurdle odds to 12/1 from 33s, while Paddy Power introduced him into their list at the same price.
All roads now lead to Ffos Las and the Welsh Champion Hurdle, as Oscar Whisky's owner Dai Walters also owns that Carmarthenshire course. Henderson was quick to point out that in spite of getting every yard of the trip off a strong pace, it will be back to the minimum distance for his authoritative winner.
"We can bring him back to two miles now and decide whether we go for the Champion after that," he said. "We were going for the Christmas Hurdle, but as it's now on January 15 it would have been perilously close to the Welsh Champion and that has always been his major target."
Earlier, Bobs Worth had advertised his own Festival claims with a clear-cut success in the Neptune Investment Management Novices' Hurdle.
The 3/1 favourite was in contention throughout and readily pulled two and a quarter lengths clear of Rose Of The Moon up the hill.
Tartak (7/1) could find his way back to Cheltenham in March for the Ryanair Chase after arriving late on the scene to nail Henderson's Carole's Legacy in the victorchandler.com Chase.
Tom George has not had much to shout about this season, and said after Paddy Brennan had galvanised his winner: "I went to bed at 11 and had had enough of the year. Let's hope the new one carries on in the way it's started."
Blazing Bailey returned to a semblance of his top-class form of old when landing the Raceodds Handicap Chase for Alan King and new father Robert Thornton, but the race was marred by the death of Joe Lively, which was put down after breaking a leg.
At home, the fantastic form of the Willie Mullins stable continued at Fairyhouse and Limerick.
Barker (5/1) was arguably the highlight of three wins as the grey returned to his brilliant best in the Holden Plant Rentals Chase at Tramore. A Grade One winner as a novice, he failed to complete in three starts last term but had no trouble under David Casey.
Patrick Mullins, representing his father, said, "We didn't expect him to win like that. He'll step back up in grade now and he has always been a classy horse but last season was a bit of a disaster." Mullins Jnr did the steering on Sir Vincent (3/1) which was also on the mark at Tramore in the Richard Barron Memorial Maiden Hurdle.
At Fairyhouse, Mullins unleashed yet another novice of potential when Aughaloor (5/2) cruised to victory in the Bobbyjo Bistro Maiden Hurdle under Paul Townend.
Townend also won the Ashbourne Handicap Hurdle on Tom Foley's Might Be Magic (7/1) and brought up his hat-trick on Droim Toll in the Porterstown Handicap Chase.
Sunday Indo Sport