Paul Nicholls vindicated as Clan Des Obeaux bowls along to victory at Aintree
Crisis? What crisis? The Irish landslide at last month's Cheltenham Festival has been the cause of much consternation in recent weeks but after after Clan Des Obeaux completed a hat-trick for the home team in the first three Grade 1s of the Randox Grand National meeting, the mood was decidedly more positive among the Brits on Merseyside.
After watching Clan Des Obeaux return to the swashbuckling style of his two wins in the King George to capture the Betway Bowl, there was no-one sporting a bigger smile than his trainer Paul Nicholls, already on the Grade 1 mark with Monmiral.
He was entitled to feel completely vindicated to have saved his two top-level winners on the day rather than take on the might of the Irish last month.
"When Clan has been here before he's already been to Cheltenham and had two hard races in the Gold Cup, and the best thing we did was not to take him there," said Nicholls. "Coming here with fresh horses makes a big difference – it's hard to do both – and today was always the plan."
For all that there were plenty of commentators wanting to knock the quality of the Bowl as a Grade 1 contest, it was hard to deny the quality Clan Des Obeaux showed.
Left in the lead when Mister Fisher blundered and unseated Nico de Boinville at the 12th fence, he poured it on under Harry Cobden between the final two fences and had 26 lengths in hand over runner-up Clondaw Castle as he hit the line in isolation.
"That was out the top drawer," said Nicholls. "The cheekpieces focused his mind and he jumped brilliantly. Letting him stride on rather than riding him for speed was probably the best thing.
"We learned in the last couple of runs that we have to make more use of him, which we did today. On his day he's very good.
"You look back and perhaps he was a little bit disappointing at Newbury but he did give 6lb to a good horse. That woke us up a bit, thinking we were getting it wrong with the tactics, and today was the right way to ride him."
Intriguingly, the winner might not be finished for the season.
Nicholls added: "He's in the bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown and that might be a really interesting race for him. He doesn't get a penalty because he's top weight and the other option could be supplementing him for Punchestown.
"Obviously, the King George and back here will be his number one aim next season."
Victory completed a red-letter day for owners Ged Mason and Sir Alex Ferguson, who were involved in each of the first three Grade 1 winners of the meeting.
"It’s amazing that these owners have had such a good day," said Nicholls. "They invest heavily in the sport and have bought some nice horses and been patient, and leave it to me and Dan [Skelton] to do what we think.
"They've had a great day and it's great to get owners back on course. And Mr and Mrs Barber as well, who are watching at home – it’s great for them.”
Runner-up Clondaw Castle will not be seen again this season but Tom George was dreaming big with next year in mind.
"That was a great run," said George. "It's only his second run at three miles and he just got a little bit tired at the end. He'll have learned a lot from it and he's probably still improving.
"The ground was probably soft enough for him but we can't complain. There's no reason why he can't put it up to the best over three miles."
The team behind Tiger Roll had stated he had "no chance in Grade 1 company" before the race and the dual Grand National winner started to lose tabs on the leaders from the sixth before finishing fourth, beaten 92 lengths, with the stewards later inquiring into the running and riding of the five-time Cheltenham Festival winner.
Rider Jack Kennedy said: "He was outclassed in that Grade. He was out of his comfort zone and going faster than he was able to go, he was just not up to them today."
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