AP McCoy steers Jezki to Aintree Hurdle success after Arctic Fire's dramatic final flight fall
Jezki gave Tony McCoy a winner at what is his final Grand National Meeting when landing the Doom Bar Aintree Hurdle.
Volnay De Thaix ensured that any stamina limitations of those stepping up in trip to two and a half miles would be tested after setting a good gallop in the first half of the race.
It looked momentarily that the Nicky Henderson-trained runner, together with his stablemate Vaniteux and former Champion Hurdle hero Rock On Ruby, may have slipped the rest of the field down the back straight.
As the race reached the business end the long-time leader paid the price for going hard early on and drifted back as Jezki (3-1) and favourite Arctic Fire moved into contention from the rear to join Rock On Ruby.
With Rock On Ruby seemingly beaten off on the run to the last, an intriguing battle between Jezki and Arctic Fire looked set to commence until the latter wrapped the obstacle to unship Ruby Walsh, hampering Rock On Ruby in the process, and leaving Jezki to come home by an unchallenged 13 lengths.
McCoy said of the Jessica Harrington-trained winner: "The two of us were racing between the second-last and the last and this lad has an inclination to go left, so I wanted to make sure I got the inside on him.
"I thought stamina wouldn't be a problem, so I thought he'd stay and we don't know if Arctic Fire would have done.
"He's won, that's the main thing. I'd spoken to JP (McManus) and Frank (Berry, racing manager) and we decided Ruby was the one to beat so why complicate it, I was happy to let Ruby ride the race and just track him.
"Whether I'd have won or not I don't know, but I was in a position to make a good race of it.
"I'm going to miss horses like him, it's nice he and I have finished on a winning note.
"I think circumstances have conspired against him, he's been taking on very good horses."
Harrington said of last year's Champion Hurdle winner: "It's great to get him back in the winner's enclosure.
"He's been running into Hurricane Fly and then Faugheen at Cheltenham, so it's great he's won.
"They've all been hard races and as defending champion you have to be ready for the first race of the year.
"We thought we had him spot on at Cheltenham and we were stepping back up in trip today.
"I've no idea if he'll go to Punchestown."
Walsh gave up his one remaining ride on the card but was not seriously injured.
"I'm fine, it's just a dead leg, and Arctic Fire is 100 per cent, thank God," he told Channel 4 Racing.
Harry Fry said of Rock On Ruby: "He's run his usual rock-solid race. He did well to stand up (after Arctic Fire) fell and Noel (Fehily) did well to stay on board.
"We looked like we were being held at the time, but he ran really well and we're delighted with him.
"He is entered at Punchestown in the three-mile race, so we'll see how he comes out of this and make our minds up.
"He was sick over Cheltenham, we had to get him right for this, and it's credit to him that he's still managed to finish second in a Grade One as a 10-year-old.
"He's been a brilliant horse for us and continues to be so."
Earlier today, Silviniaco Conti dug deep when it mattered most to register back-to-back victories in the Betfred Bowl at Aintree.
The nine-year-old was sent straight to the lead in the three-mile-one furlong contest by Noel Fehily just strides after the tapes rose.
Closely pursued by main market rival Holywell, the 7-4 favourite seemed to enjoy himself out in front jumping with great enthusiasm.
After a circuit of little change, Fehily began to turn the screw up front as the field headed down the back straight for a second time.
Heading around the home turn the leader was still travelling best of them all, and as Holywell began to feel the pinch, Ma Filleule moved up menacingly in the hands of Daryl Jacob.
Although looking beat, Holywell responded to pressure over the second-last, with Silviniaco Conti shaken up and the patiently-ridden Ballynagour creeping closer all the time.
As the challenge of Holywell finally petered out, Ballynagour was left to lay down the gauntlet but it was not enough with the Paul Nicholls-trained winner leaving behind his effort in the Gold Cup to win by a head.
Meanwhile, Clarcam left his below-par performance in the Arkle at Cheltenham behind when running out an impressive winner of the One Magnificent City Manifesto Novices' Chase at Aintree.
Sent into the lead by Ruby Walsh after the fourth fence, the Gordon Elliott-trained five-year-old put in a foot-perfect round of jumping in the two-and-a-half-mile contest.
Favourite Josses Hill tried to match Clarcam, but did his chances no good by continually jumping right and was soon beaten off after the second-last.
On the run down to the final fence, the strong-travelling Vibrato Valtat emerged as a serious threat, but the 5-1 winner found plenty when called on for on a maximum effort, and another bold jump at the last put the race to bed as he eventually scored by four lengths from the Paul Nicholls-trained runner.