Oscar Whisky put the seal on a reinvigorating afternoon for Nicky Henderson and Barry Geraghty as he won the John Smith's Aintree Hurdle from the valiant Thousand Stars.
The trainer and jockey secured the first three races on the Grand National undercard, with impressive successes for Spirit Son and Finian's Rainbow helping Henderson pass the £2m mark this season.
The first two days of Aintree had been depressing for Henderson and he was disappointed with the underwhelming effort of former Champion Hurdle winner Binocular (fourth), but there was more than enough reason to smile as Oscar Whisky (6/1) came of age.
Clear by the last, Oscar Whisky was given a real scare when Katie Walsh and Thousand Stars began their charge, but held on by a neck. Cheltenham runner-up Peddlers Cross (11/8 favourite) was another to flop, eventually beating only one home.
"Barry just said he thought Oscar Whisky should go for the Champion Hurdle next year, but he'll be a year older and might want further. The nice thing is we have a whole summer to think about it," said Henderson. "Binocular is better than that. When he's not right he starts knocking hurdles and he was doing that."
Walsh was given a six-day ban for using her whip with excessive frequency and in the wrong place, but she said: "I love that horse -- he gave me a winner at Cheltenham. Going to the last I thought I would win, but to be fair to Oscar Whisky he kept pulling out."
Spirit Son and Finian's Rainbow atoned for near-misses at the Cheltenham Festival. Spirit Son (3/1) was very impressive in the Novices' Hurdle, relishing the step up to two and a half miles and beating Cue Card by a yawning 13 lengths.
At Tramore, meanwhile, young Conor Maxwell possibly felt like he was owed one by Bulls And Mortar and the nine-year-old finally delivered in the Pickardstown Handicap Chase.
Maxwell was on board last October at Thurles when the pair parted company and the jockey broke both of his wrists.
The horse had gone over four years since his last win in a maiden hurdle and was sent off at 12-1 but he won by two and a half lengths. "We've been waiting a long time for that," said winning trainer Eoghan O'Grady.
Sunday Indo Sport