Clan Des Obeaux became the fifth horse to win the Grade 1 Betway Bowl on the opening day of Aintree's Grand National meeting. A wide margin winner last year when fitted with cheekpieces for the first time, the ten year old had failed to recapture that level of form earlier in the season. However, the champion trainer switched the headgear and the application of blinkers did the trick as he beat the Irish trained pair Conflated and Kemboy by a length. It was his fifth Grade 1 victory and once again proved why Paul Nicholls is the best trainer in the business when it comes to staying chasers.
It was pleasing to see Epatante register her sixth Grade 1 victory in the Aintree Hurdle. Stepping up to two and a half miles for the first time, the former champion hurdle winner was a shade keen early on but Aidan Coleman did a good job and he rode her patiently. Nicky Henderson's mare seemingly had the measure of main rival Zanahiyr when Gordon Elliott's charge hit the deck at the final flight. A fourteen lengths winner, she is a classy mare who is most effective on flat tracks and has returned to her best this campaign having been plagued with back issues last term.
Epatante was a winner for the Aintree Update and one couldn't help feel aggrieved when Pied Piper was disqualified having dead heated with bargain buy Knight Salute in the Grade 1 four year old hurdle. Gordon Elliott's gelding travelled beautifully throughout and found himself in front too soon. Idling in front, he edged to his left at the last in front of Milton Harris' runner and the stewards deemed that sufficient interference to alter the result. Knight Salute had the whole length of the run-in to win. I hope it's not the thin edge of the wedge if the officials are going to start taking into account how a horse jumps at the final obstacle. By Davy Russell's own admission, it was an ordinary ride and the best horse was placed second.
The Red Rum Chase was a frustrating result with the well supported Gunsight Ridge running a stinker. Olly Murphy's runner was in trouble halfway down the backstraight and was eventually pulled up. It transpired he had incurred a wound to one of his heels. It was too bad to be true. What made it worse was the fact the winner The Last Day is a horse I have followed closely during the last few seasons even tipping him for the Grand Annual Chase at Cheltenham last season. Evan Williams' ten year old has been delicate though and was only having his eighth race over fences. The half-brother to Chantry House had looked like winning at Haydock on his belated reappearance until tipping up late on. I feared the reported good to soft ground would be too quick for him. A two and a half lengths winner off a mark of 133, I wonder if the underfoot conditions were slower than stated.
Law Ella (advised @ 11/1) ran well in the Grade 2 mares' bumper which rounded off proceedings. Gavin Cromwell's runner had won in good style at Down Royal but this represented a major hike in class. There were no complaints, she was well positioned but couldn't match the winner Ashroe Diamond's turn of foot in the closing stages but kept on well to fill the runners-up berth. Beaten six lengths, I had the race down to a shortlist of three and, needless to say, I picked the wrong ones. There is a fine line between a good and a moderate day.
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