Asian Maze bounced back from a crashing fall at Cheltenham to trounce a high-class field in the Scottish And Newcastle Aintree Hurdle.
Tom Mullins’ mare fell at the fourth flight in the Smurfit Kappa Champion Hurdle and was then kicked by another horse.
But clearly none the worse for the spill she galloped her rivals into the ground with a brilliant display of front running in the Grade One contest.
The 4-1 shot was briefly pressed by Hardy Eustace and Sky’s The Limit three out but she kept up the pressure and drew away under Ruby Walsh to score in great style by 17 lengths and seven lengths from her two rivals.
“We always knew she was a high-class mare after the end of last year but she had no luck this year,” said Mullins.
“She got injured early on and she didn’t get a run until Gowran in February. We thought she was half-right for Gowran but she went to sleep on us and we knew she would improve an awful lot for that.
“We thought she would go well at Cheltenham but she fell there. She picked up after Cheltenham and she did a serious bit of work the other day so I was happy enough to come here.
“It was just a case of how much the fall was in her mind and whether it would play on her but it didn’t at all.
“We always thought she had the pretensions to win something like this but she hasn’t had her chance until today.
“She’ll go to Punchestown for the Champion Hurdle. I don’t think two miles round Punchestown would be her ideal but it might tell us where to go next season.
“All being well she’ll come back for the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham but it’s a long way off.”
Asian Maze rocketed up the betting for the Champion Hurdle in some lists and is 8-1 co-second favourite with totesport behind 3-1 chance Brave Inca, while Coral were less impressed and priced her up at 20-1.
Walsh said: “People were having a go at Tom Mullins for running her in the Champion Hurdle but I was cantering in the Champion Hurdle, so he got it completely right and she has proved that today.
“She couldn’t win over two miles around here but two miles in the Champion Hurdle is totally different and it is a tough race. The likes of Hardy Eustace and Brave Inca are stayers and she is a champion hurdler.
“I love this mare and I am delighted for the man that trains her.”
Dessie Hughes, trainer of the runner-up, said: “We were delighted with him, but he just can’t quicken on that ground. There was so much rain here last night that we nearly knew our fate then.
“He is a grand old horse and please God we’ll get him to Punchestown (ACC Bank Champion Hurdle).”
The JP McManus colours were to the fore when Tony McCoy was seen at his best in getting Foreman home in the John Smith’s Maghull Novices’ Chase.
Arkle Trophy winner Voy Por Ustedes looked set to score when jumping to the front three from home but the champion jockey had other ideas and sent his mount up to challenge on the run to the last.
They jumped the obstacle in unison but Foreman (4-1) found the better turn of foot under a typical McCoy drive to land the Grade One prize by a length from Voy Por Ustedes (10-11 favourite).
Foreman had finished third behind the runner-up at Cheltenham and McCoy said: “I think the softer ground helped him today. It was a bit quick for him at Cheltenham in the Arkle.
“I dropped him out too far there so I sat a little bit closer to the pace today.
“It was definitely more of a test of stamina on the ground and he battled well, he’s tough.”
It was a first winner at the Grand National meeting for Thierry Doumen, who said: “He’s an absolutely brilliant horse. We had to give last season a miss because he had a setback and he has come back stronger than ever.
“He ran a great race at Cheltenham to be beaten by a very good horse in Voy Por Ustedes but maybe today he was a bit closer to his best.
“Cheltenham is not an easy course and Aintree probably suited him better.
“He has a few entries but we will have to see how he comes out of this. He’s had a great season already.”
Alan King, trainer of the second, said: “He’s only five, that was his sixth run of the season and he’s nearly done it.
“That’s it for the season, he’s done more than enough and he’s still a lovely prospect.
“He’ll obviously be campaigned for the Queen Mother next season.”
Voy Por Ustedes is just shading Foreman in the betting for the Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham next March at a general 10-1 compared with the latter on 12-1.
Paddy Brennan, who missed out on a ride in the Grand National when his intended mount Eurotrek was withdrawn earlier this week, gained some consolation when he guided Wellbeing to an impressive victory in the John Smith’s Extra Smooth Handicap Hurdle.
The Philip Hobbs-trained nine-year-old finished fifth to Sinndar in the 2000 Derby but he was having only his sixth start over hurdles.
However, he belied his relative inexperience with a polished performance against seasoned handicappers as he quickened clear from two out to beat his stable companion, Noble Request, by nine lengths to put Hobbs on 99 for the campaign.
“He’s getting better and better,” said the Minehead-based trainer. “He might be nine but it’s just taken a bit of time for him to click.
“He’s better than most horses who go jump racing but at the same time he’s getting on a bit.
“He was obviously very good today and each time he’s run recently he’s improved.
“He jumps well and I don’t see why he shouldn’t jump fences. He hasn’t got many miles on the clock.
“I would imagine he’d run again this time but he wouldn’t want desperate ground or firm. Good to soft suits him and I think that’s what has brought about the improvement.”