The application of blinkers and the step up in trip had the desired effect as Zarkandar returned to winning form in the John Smith's Aintree Hurdle.

Only fourth in the Champion Hurdle over two miles, champion trainer Paul Nicholls decided to help him out with the headgear which he used to wear as a younger horse on the Flat in France.

Nigel Twiston-Davies pitched his exciting novice The New One in against more experienced rivals and it only just failed to come off as he went down by half a length.

Ruby Walsh was back on board Zarkandar (11-2) having ridden Hurricane Fly at Cheltenham, and with no one else willing to make the running Walsh set off at his own fractions.

One by one challengers dropped away, including the dual winner Oscar Whisky, but The New One loomed up and looked likely to go past.

However, Zarkandar found plenty for pressure to gain another Grade One triumph to go with his Triumph Hurdle success of a couple of years ago. Thousand Stars, second for the last two years, was third this time.

The World Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival is likely to be on Zarkandar's agenda next year.

Nicholls said: "He wore blinkers before we had him as he was so colty.

"I thought we might put them on in the Champion Hurdle but while he kept winning I left them off.

"I felt he gave up too easy in the Champion Hurdle. I put them on at home three days ago and he was just like a different animal. There was a phenomenal improvement.

"He'll be going over a trip next year. We tried this year and he lacked a bit of pace. He stayed really well today and he's bred to. Today was the first step up.

"We'll probably start him over two and a half at Ascot next year and work up from there. Ultimately I see him as a three-miler in time."

Twiston-Davies said of The New One: "The horse has run a superb race. He'd won everywhere except the last 100 yards and dropping back to two miles will probably help him. The champion hurdlers ought to be worried next year."

Willie Mullins, trainer of third-placed Thousand Stars, said: "I'm delighted with him and I think he has run well up to his mark.

"That's a nice prep for Punchestown."