Fire is put out by AP McCoy and Jezki
Favourite falls at the last as Nina gets win over fences
For the second time in a month, Willie Mullins watched from the grandstands at one of the major festivals as his horse went to the final hurdle about to justify favouritism in a Grade One race.
When Annie Power crashed out at the last at Cheltenham, Mullins had Glens Melody in reserve to pick up the pieces but in yesterday's Doom Bar Aintree Hurdle it was last year's Champion Hurdle winner Jezki who obliged under AP McCoy for Jessica Harrington and JP McManus.
In what looked a horrible fall for both horse and rider, Arctic Fire seemed to be travelling a shade better than Jezki on the run to the last hurdle of the 2m4f Grade One with the pair set to pull clear of their rivals but this was the point where Arctic Fire's race ended abrutly. Thankfully, jockey Ruby Walsh did get up and walk away, as did Arctic Fire, which was one of the most satisfying outcomes of the day.
After suffering defeat at the expense of Hurricane Fly three times in Ireland this season and then Faugheen at Cheltenham, when Jezki finished fourth in the Champion Hurdle, credit goes to Jessica Harrington who got the seven-year-old back to winning ways and gave AP McCoy a Grade One winner at what could well be his final meeting.
"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," Harrington said.
"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."
Harrington was unsure if Jezki would return to two miles to defend his Punchestown Champion Hurdle crown later this month.
There were four Irish winners on the opening day of the Grand National meeting in Liverpool and the first of those came in Grade One company also as Clarcam won the opener for trainer Gordon Elliott.
The five-year-old put in an almost flawless performance under Ruby Walsh and despite not getting the age allowance that he would in Ireland, he seems to have thrived on the step up to 2m4f. Racing prominently, he won nicely for Gigginstown.
"It's great to get the week off to a good start," Elliott admitted. "I wasn't happy with him at Cheltenham and you could see that he was never going after a couple of fences. We thought he was going to be placed at Cheltenham, but he just never got into the race - Un De Sceaux is such freak, he sickened everything," he added.
"It was good to see him back and Ruby gave him a great ride today, Bryan (Cooper) is unlucky to be suspended. He does a lot of work with these horses at home and he will be on this horse again.
"He jumped great today. I think he got a bit close to one but this is what it is all about - Grade Ones and Aintree, all the big Festivals - so we are very happy.
"The way he travelled and jumped, we would definitely be staying at this trip or going further. I don't think that we will go back to two miles with him. I think we'll put him out in a field now and look forward to next season. I doubt he'll go to Punchestown but we never say never."
Elliott completed a first and last race double when Paul Carberry gave a master-class in 'nerves of steel' riding when winning the finale on the held up Taglietelle.
Carberry's sister Nina was also at her very best as On The Fringe joined an elite list of horses to complete the Cheltenham/Aintree Foxhunters double with a foot-perfect performance in the first outing for the National fences this week.
After winning at Cheltenham there was plenty of confidence behind the Enda Bolger-trained 10-year-old who was well backed and beat Pacha Du Polder by three and three parts of a length.
Carberry became the latest member of her family to ride a winner over the big fences and she was clearly delighted.
"I was just a passenger, he was loving it," Carberry said.
"It's a great training performance again to get him back here in the same type of form and he travelled like a dream. I had loads of room on the outside because I knew if I could get him round he'd be good enough."