Clan Des Obeaux's focus was sharpened by the cheekpieces

Four lessons from Aintree day one | Ben Linfoot on Clan Des Obeaux, Monmiral and more

Ben Linfoot picks out four key points of note from day one of the Grand National meeting at Aintree as Clan Des Obeaux stole the show in the Betway Bowl.

1. Pieces inspire best-ever Clan

For a horse that has won two King Georges, including one by 21 lengths, it’s saying something that today we saw the best-ever performance from Paul Nicholls’ Clan Des Obeaux. But that’s exactly what I’m saying.

Not many horses ran their race here, but the bona fide 160-rated Clondaw Castle did and he was smashed into second by 26 lengths.

The catalyst for this best-ever performance? Cheekpieces. They just helped Clan Des Obeaux travel better than he has all season, they sharpened his focus, and on this evidence his Grade One haul – which now stands at three – is only going to get bigger.

This proved once and for all that he can do it going left-handed, as well, so with that in mind he could finally be the horse to wrestle the Betfair Chase from Grand National hopeful Bristol De Mai’s grasp next season.

The Clan Project reminds me very much of the Silviniaco Conti one that Nicholls pulled off a few years ago.

A couple of reverses, including a Cheltenham Gold Cup fourth behind Lord Windermere, had the doubters circling around Silviniaco, but the sheepskin inspired a purple patch for that horse.

He won a Betfair Chase in first-time cheekpieces, before winning a King George and this same Aintree race amongst his first four starts in the headgear – and I wouldn’t bet against Clan Des Obeaux providing a similar set of results.

Nicholls spoke of possibly supplementing him for Punchestown in the aftermath – or even carrying top-weight without a penalty in the bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown – but wherever he goes next you can be sure he’ll be sporting the sheepskin.

And I’d be very happy to wager he’s got more Grade Ones in him yet, even if his next start might be in a handicap - and I think we'd all love to see that.

2. More patience required with Monmiral

When I look at Monmiral I see a very exciting horse but I just wonder if the same patience that connections had to have with Clan Des Obeaux might be required here.

It might seem silly to say that after he’s just won the Grade One Doom Bar Anniversary 4-Y-O Hurdle by seven and a half lengths, but he’s a young horse with a future over fences and we may have to wait until we see the best of him in that sphere.

Don’t forget Clan Des Obeaux ran in the 2016 Triumph behind Ivanovic Gorbatov and it wasn’t until his third season over fences that we really began to see the best of him.

That was down to maturity and Nicholls faces a tricky conundrum now with Monmiral – does he go chasing with this horse as a five-year-old, as he did with Clan, or does he give him that tricky first-season-out-of-juveniles campaign over hurdles?

Quotes for the Sporting Life Arkle of 20/1 don’t really appeal with that in mind – not for 2022 anyway.

But on a line through Adagio this was arguably the best performance from any juvenile hurdler this season, despite him not hurdling brilliantly, and given he’s a future chaser all over that marks him out as a very exciting one indeed.

We may just have to wait a little while to see him bloom.

Click below for Aintree day one review

Clan Des Obeaux on his way to victory under Harry Cobden

3. Tiger talk turns to 2022

Operation Tiger Roll is under way.

Beaten 92 lengths by Clan Des Obeaux in the Betway Bowl, Michael O’Leary will no doubt say his point has been proven – that he’s not a 167-rated horse – and he will hope that this evidence helps to chip away at his handicap mark.

Of course all this really proves is what we already knew, that Tiger Roll is a specialist in Cross Country races and the Grand National, so it only underlines the craziness of taking him out of the big one at the March 2 forfeit stage.

The worst decision in Grand National history? Quite possibly. But this might not mean the end for Tiger and his association with the great race. At least his Cross Country sparkle told connections he was still loving life and that means he’ll be kept in training as a 12-year-old.

BHA handicapper Martin Greenwood won’t be swayed by one bad run – we know that from this year’s rating allocation of 166 – but what Tiger does over the next 10 months (and I’m guessing not much to write home about) will be crucial in how much is shorn off that number.

What’s 6lb between old friends?! I wonder if 160 is the magic number for the 12yo Tiger…

4. Abacadabras does it for Festival few

Talking of magic, Abacadabras won the third Grade One of his career for Denise ‘Sneezy’ Foster and Gigginstown in the Betway Aintree Hurdle – doing his bit for those horses that ran at Cheltenham in the process.

How horses come out of Cheltenham is always a talking point at Aintree, whether there is three or four weeks between the meetings – and this year there was only 20 days between the last day of the Festival and the first day in Liverpool.

For all the chat about having a hard race at Cheltenham, though, all you have to do is browse through the results for the last five Grand National meetings to see that Cheltenham is a great source of Aintree winners.

Indeed, from 2015-2019 inclusive a total of 67 Aintree winners had had their previous run at Cheltenham with 12 of them doing the double, so I’m always keen to judge each horse on an individual basis.

Abacadabras fell at the third in the Champion Hurdle, so he didn’t have a hard race at Cheltenham in any case as he backed up from that with a fairly comfortable victory, admittedly in a weak Grade One, on his first go at 2m4f.

He was the only winner to come via Cheltenham on the day, with Paddy Power Plate winner The Shunter having to settle for second in the Manifesto, Triumph runner-up Adagio filling the same position in the Anniversary 4-Y-O Hurdle and Gold Cup fourth Native River finishing a well-beaten third in the Betway Bowl.

But the first two ran really well and I wouldn’t be quick to put too much faith in the ‘fresh after missing Cheltenham’ angle despite Thursday’s results.

History suggests there will be plenty of winners at this meeting that ran at the Festival - and Friday’s action could even provide a few ‘Cheltenham-Aintree’ double merchants in Belfast Banter and Chantry House.

More on the 2021 Grand National

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