Ruby Walsh starred on day two of our November Meeting as he claimed a hat-trick of victories, including the Grade Two Coral Hurdle.
After winning the first race of the day on board Irish raider Fletchers Flyer, Walsh went on to steer Al Ferof to victory in the Grade Two Amlin 1965 Chase and then guided favourite Faugheen to a masterful win in the day’s feature race.
Ante-post Champion Hurdle favourite Faugheen toyed with his rivals in the Coral Hurdle.
Ruby Walsh's partner made most of the running aboard the Cheltenham Festival-winning six-year-old, who is now unbeaten in seven starts.
Walsh was in no particular hurry at the head of affairs, but his companion largely jumped accurately and with economic purpose.
Blue Fashion at least attempted to make a race of it, but a swift jump at the last from the 1/4 favourite confirmed the inevitable.
Faugheen won by a carefree three and three-quarters of a length to give Walsh and trainer Willie Mullins back-to-back victories in the Grade Two after Annie Power had struck 12 months ago.
Walsh described victory as "mission accomplished".
"Looking at the runners, we felt we might have to make the running ourselves," he explained. "That was the first run of the year and we knew he was going to improve, so we were not about to make it a test of stamina. He showed a terrific turn of foot.
"This was just about November. He wasn't going to be 125 per cent fit. Once I got the fencing down the hill, he jumped much better form there.
"He has ticked the first box, he has plenty of big questions to answer, but the dream is alive."
Mullins, who was watching from Gowran Park, commented: "I'm delighted. Ruby really asked him at the last and he came up for him. He was able to dictate the pace, which he won't always be able to do.
"He looks way stronger than he did at any stage last year. Hopefully I can keep him like that and, if he can improve, who knows.
"I don't know where he'll go next but he has plenty of options and could go up or down in trip. I haven't thought about it."
With stable jockey Sam Twiston-Davies on duty at Haydock, Nicholls turned to predecessor Walsh to renew his partnership with the talented grey Al Ferof and despite having been off the track for 254 days, he banished any notion of rustiness with a formidable effort.
Al Ferof only had to face one rival in the same contest 12 months ago, but a much stronger cast had this season been lured to the Grade Two over two miles and three furlongs.
Rajdhani Express, Bury Parade and the eventual winner jousted for the early advantage before the first-named forged clear.
Nicky Henderson's inmate put in some spectacular leaps, but Al Ferof travelled with far greater fluency towards the penultimate fence, at which point Walsh asked the 5/2 favourite to go on.
A resurgent Somersby overcame a mistake at the last to take second spot, but he was comprehensively beaten by seven lengths.
Wishfull Thinking, winner of the Old Roan Chase at Aintree, was never really a factor until he made late gains in the hands of Tom O'Brien for third spot.
Bookmakers Sky Bet responded to the impressive performance by cutting him to 8/1 from 20/1 for the William Hill King George at Kempton on Boxing Day and from 20/1 to 12/1 for the Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham.
Owner John Hales said: "It was a good race to win this year, great to see him come back. He was back in the condition he was when he won the Paddy Power Gold Cup (in 2012).
"Last year when he won this race, he was downhill afterwards and we couldn't understand why.
"He was third in the King George but that wasn't Al Ferof. He was second in the Denman (formerly the Aon) Chase, 30 lengths behind the winner - and that wasn't Al Ferof.
"So Paul and his team got together and discovered that he'd got grade four ulcers.
"Paul discovered that about 10 per cent of his horses had those ulcers and, you ask the Americans, grade four ulcers will stop buses. Horses can't cope with that.
"So Paul treated him, we treated him at my daughter's farm and even when he came off grass after 10 or 12 weeks he still had signs of gastric problems, so we treated him and carried on treating him.
"Now you can see the difference. That was impressive. That wasn't just a win - that was an impressive win."