Canyon claims Mersey honours for Willie Mullins
Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh combined to claim the first race on Crabbie's Grand National day at Aintree as Nichols Canyon claimed a comprehensive victory in the World Famous JUST EAT Mersey Novices' Hurdle.
Third in the Neptune Investment Management Novices' Hurdle at Cheltenham last month, Nichols Canyon was the 3-1 favourite to turn to tables on Festival runner-up Parlour Games.
Walsh was never too far off the pace aboard the market leader, while Tony McCoy, riding at Aintree for the final time, appeared keen to play his cards late aboard Parlour Games.
Nichols Canyon moved sweetly to the lead halfway up the straight and although McCoy went in pursuit after the final flight, the Mullins runner kept up the gallop to fend him off by four and a half lengths.
Three Musketeers was third.
Mullins said: "I'm very pleased. I didn't expect him to do that. I thought his coat had gone a bit and I said to Ruby he could run flat today.
"We just went back to our old tactics. We did what we did in Leopardstown and got him to settle.
"We came here on a wing and a prayer. You try to recover from Cheltenham, look at Aintree and say shall or shan't I enter him?
"Then do I work him, but they are as fit as a flea going to Cheltenham. You don't want to do too much and a horse with ability will win.
"We might go back on the Flat with him."
Walsh said: "I was going to go on but Daryl Jacob (on Ballybolley) was in the same boat and whoever went quicker went on and I was delighted when he did.
"Last Friday we were looking at Fairyhouse and here. He would have had to carry a penalty in the Grade Two race so the obvious thing was to bring him here and run without his penalty.
"Thankfully it worked out."
John Ferguson said of Parlour Games: "I'm delighted with him and we'll think about going chasing next year now, that's what AP was thinking anyway but of course he doesn't have to ride him!
"He's always worn a hood before but we went with ear plugs today, they are sort of a halfway house."
Harry Skelton, trainer of Three Musketeers, said: "You'd have to be pleased with that on just his fourth ever run. He'll be going chasing next year now."
Seedling suffered a fatal injury when falling two flights from the finish.