Hermes Allen put up a sparkling performance to remain unbeaten since joining Paul Nicholls in the Ballymore Novices' Hurdle at Cheltenham.

Bought for £350,000 having won an Irish point-to-point, he was a facile winner on his debut for Nicholls at Stratford in October.

This Grade Two represented an altogether different test, however, as both Willie Mullins with Hubrisko and Gordon Elliott in the shape of Music Drive were represented – along with Nigel Twiston-Davies’ promising bumper winner Weveallbeencaught.

Sent off a 9-4 chance, Harry Cobden was keen to make it a real contest on the five-year-old and ensured a decent pace throughout but coming down the hill racing towards the second-last the Irish challengers loomed large.

Nicholls can do little wrong at present, though, and Paul Townend was soon off the bridle on Hubrisko and fading while Music Drive could not get on terms either.

Hermes Allen bounded clear to win by nine lengths and Paddy Power cut the winner to 8-1 from 20s for the Ballymore in March.

"Aidan Murphy bought him for John (Hales) last spring and he was disappointing. He didn’t run, he was backward and didn’t show a lot. He had a summer at home and didn’t show a lot before Stratford," said Nicholls.

"Obviously he had a big price tag and everyone thought he was good, so I was a little bit worried at home and then he went to Stratford and surprised us and won as he did. Bryony (Frost) said there he is a decent horse, he is just green and babyish.

"Since that day at Stratford to now, he’s improved and improved, the way he has worked, the way he has jumped, everything. He is obviously just an improving young horse who is maturing and had got into our routine and he’s doing well."

He went on: "The Challow is a race I like winning, we have a few who can possibly go, but you’d possibly run the best one in that. The guys (owners, who also include Ged Mason and Sir Alex Ferguson) would love to come back in the spring here and it might be he is good enough. He would get three miles on good ground or a bit slower, I suppose we can go that sort of trip.

"He is an exciting horse and will be an exciting chaser. There are a few who will improve from their first run, but he has taken a big step forward."

He added: "We changed the feed this year and tweaked a few things and it has helped. They look great and are running all the way to the line.

"We’d been on a feed for five years and sometimes I think you need a change. The last year I was never happy that the horses looked great and we had a spell in the season where they all ran terrible and I never found out why. To me, I’d worked out it could only be one thing in my mind, so we changed it and it has been the best thing we ever did."

Joe Tizzard has been in the Cheltenham winner's enclosure as a jockey and an assistant trainer – and now following the success of Amarillo Sky he has celebrated victory as a trainer in his own right.

Fifth in the Grand Annual in March before Tizzard’s father Colin had retired, Amarillo Sky (7-2) had his sights considerably lowered having taken on the likes of Gentleman De Mee and Edwardstone on his final run at Aintree.

Sent off a 7-2 chance for the Mucking Brilliant Paddy Power Handicap Chase, Brendan Powell set out to make good use of his partner’s exuberant jumping and while they had plenty in trouble coming down the hill, he looked a sitting duck as Grey Diamond and Fugitif loomed up.

To Amarillo Sky’s credit he would not be denied and pulled out plenty to beat Fugitif by a length and a half with Grey Diamond fading into third.

Tizzard said: "It’s great to win here. Cheltenham has always been a place I’ve loved and we have loved as a family.

"He stuck at it very well. He is a proper two-miler. We will pick our way and he is a nice, progressive horse, who proved today he is just on the right side of the handicap and hopefully he’ll keep improving."

As for the next target, he said: "There is a race at Newbury in couple of weeks’ time and if he comes out of this race all right, we might have a look at that, especially since he loves bouncing off this ground."

Asked about the transition to training in his own right, Tizzard added: "I’m loving it when I’m stood in the winner’s enclosure at Cheltenham, but there is an awful lot of pressure as well. Now I get the phone calls. Any trainer who says it is easy they’d be lying. You’ve got to enjoy these moments, though."

The opening Markel Insurance Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle saw young rider Kieren Buckley also register a first win at the track.

Buckley took the unusual step in the summer of making the move from the UK to Ireland when it is normally the other way around.

Offered a job by Gavin Cromwell having ridden My Mate Mozzie for the trainer in the County Hurdle, the pair teamed up with Sweet Will (8-1), who had only won at Fairyhouse three days previously.

"It’s a moment I’ve dreamt about since I’ve started riding. I just couldn’t believe how I went away from the rest of them when I pinged over the last," said Buckley.

"I’ve been with Gavin since May and I was with Nigel (Hawke) before. I don’t know if it’s a bit poetic or what, but I had a ride here for Gavin in the County Hurdle and got offered the job on the back of that – so to come back here six months later and ride my first Cheltenham winner for Gavin is amazing and I owe the man a lot."

Kerry Lee's Magic Dancer (7-2) won the Glenfarclas Veterans’ Handicap Chase, run in place of the Cross Country Chase as the ground on that track was too firm.

The 10-year-old had won over hurdles at the meeting exactly five years ago under a then 5lb conditional jockey Richard Patrick, and he was on board once again.

"It was a huge relief when he passed the line in front. We have had him at least five years now, and he is just one of those really happy horses. He is always pleased to see you, he loves his work, loves being turned out and if he can’t put a smile on your face, nothing can," said Lee.

Contraposto (28-1) won the closing Valda Energy Novices’ Handicap Hurdle for Irish trainer Dick Donohue and jockey Michael O’Sullivan.