Paul Nicholls’ decision to swerve the Cheltenham Festival with a number of his leading lights can pay off on the opening day of the Grand National meeting at Aintree.
Four Grade One contests kick off proceedings and Nicholls has leading contenders in all four, the most high-profile of which is dual King George winner Clan Des Obeaux in the Betway Bowl.
Having twice failed to get home in the Gold Cup, connections opted to bypass Cheltenham this season and that decision can pay dividends this afternoon.
Clan Des Obeaux has yet to win this season but he has posted some fine efforts in defeat, making Haydock specialist Bristol De Mai pull out all the stops in the Betfair Chase on his seasonal reappearance before finishing third in his King George hat-trick bid at Christmas.
His neck defeat to stablemate Secret Investor, to whom he was giving 6lbs, in the Denman Chase at Newbury last time out was a disappointing effort but he’s clearly far better than that and the addition of first-time cheekpieces ought to sharpen him up today. Should that come to pass, his freshness advantage on Gold Cup fourth Native River could prove decisive.
Irish interest in this contest is provided by the remarkable Tiger Roll but it will rank as a big surprise if the dual National hero can land the spoils on this his first Grade One start over fences at the age of 11.
The Nicholls-trained Monmiral is strongly fancied to retain his unbeaten record in the Doom Bar Anniversary 4-Y-O Juvenile Hurdle.
An impressive winner of a Doncaster Grade Two before Christmas, Monmiral was far too good for Nassalam at Haydock in February. He can take this at the expense of Triumph Hurdle runner-up Adagio, a horse who rates as a significant threat if over his Cheltenham exertions.
The Irish were dominant at Cheltenham last month and today’s opening race, the SSS Super Alloys Manifesto Novices’ Chase, features an intriguing raider in The Shunter.
Emmet Mullins’ eight-year-old was one of 23 Irish-trained winners at the Festival, justifying strong market confidence to win the Paddy Power Plate in stylish fashion.
While this will obviously require more again, it’s far from the strongest Grade One ever run and he may be able to get the better of Marsh Novices’ Chase second Fusil Raffles.
The Irish can also strike in the Betway Aintree Hurdle, the most intriguing Grade One of the day. Six of the 11 runners have an official rating of 158 and Abacadabras, now trained by Denise Foster, is one of that classy sextet.
The seven-year-old was an early faller in last month’s Champion Hurdle but he’s a classy individual on his day and it will be fascinating to see how he fares on his first crack over two and a half miles. He is narrowly preferred to the Nicholls-trained McFabulous.
Away from the Grade One action, Sametegal can complete a great day for Team Ditcheat by landing the Rose Paterson Randox Foxhunters’ Open Hunters’ Chase while Henry de Bromhead’s Moon Over Germany can repeat his 2019 win in the Close Brothers Red Rum Handicap Chase.
Pam Sly’s 7unbeaten Eileendover is hard to look past in the finale, the Goffs UK Nickel Coin Mares’ Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race.
1.45: The Shunter
2.20: Monmiral (NB)
2.50: Clan Des Obeaux (Nap)
4.40: Moon Over Germany