Former Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson was celebrating on Merseyside for the second year running on Thursday as Clan Des Obeaux, the best horse he has owned in nearly 25 years in racing, took the Betway Bowl on the opening day of the Grand National meeting at Aintree.
The 80-year-old Scot had an interest in two runners in the race, and the money beforehand suggested that Protektorat, from the Dan Skelton yard, was fancied to land the first Grade One win of his career. Clan Des Obeaux was always travelling sweetly for Harry Cobden, however, at a track that plays to his strengths, and despite idling on the run-in he got home by a length from the Irish Gold Cup winner Conflated.
“We couldn’t believe the price he went out to,” Ferguson said. “Protektorat was a worthy favourite but maybe the Gold Cup [in which he finished third] had just taken a bit out of him.
“Racing is part of my life more than football now. I’ve a few with [co-owner] Ged [Mason] and John Hales and we got great enjoyment last year winning three Grade Ones here. I never won three in a row at Anfield, that’s for sure. I need to speak to Paul [Nicholls] about the Grand National [next year]. He will be 11 and it is probably the one thing to try at his age.”
There was a dramatic conclusion and aftermath to the Anniversary 4YO Hurdle earlier on the card as Knight Salute and Pied Piper initially dead-heated for first in the Grade One event, before Knight Salute was awarded the spoils in the stewards' room.
The stewards decided that the Gordon Elliott-trained Pied Piper had impeded Knight Salute by jumping left at the final flight, despite being told by Paddy Brennan, his rider, that he had not lost any momentum and that he felt a dead heat was "a very fair result".
Davy Russell, meanwhile, told the officials that he had gone too soon on the 10-11 favourite. "I knew riding the race it was completely wrong," Russell said, "but he travelled so well and my hands were tied."
Milton Harris, whose colourful life and career has included drinking sessions with Cary Grant, dating Belinda Carlisle and seven years without a licence after being declared bankrupt, was celebrating his first Grade One success.
“It doesn’t sit easy with me as they’ve had a good battle,” Harris said. “I was happy with the original result but the stewards have a job to do. “When he [Pied Piper] has given him a bump, that has probably helped him. He is a hardy warrior.”
Ashroe Diamond gave Willie Mullins his first victory of the Grand National meeting when taking the concluding mares' bumper.
Ridden by his son, Patrick, the well-backed 9-4 favourite travelled strongly in the Grade Two affair and quickened well when asked, and while Law Ella gave chase as the winner briefly threatened to idle a touch, she was six lengths adrift at the line.
“She was good, she’s been doing everything right at home. We were a little worried when we saw the rain coming, Paul [Townend] thought it was dead enough for Kemboy and I thought it might be too dead for her but she didn’t seem to mind,” said Mullins.
“To me it looked like she was running quite free in the early part of the race, but once Patrick got her settled he just sat, he said turning for home he was worried about something coming up behind him rather than the ones in front, he thought he had those covered.
“He was confident I think that they had gone fast enough and the ones in front wouldn’t be going away.
“There’s a mares’ bumper there [Punchestown], it’s a little soon but we’ll have a look at it as there’s nothing else for her. There’s a good chance she’ll go there.”
Meanwhile, Sam Waley-Cohen, one of Britain’s top amateur riders for more than two decades, said he will retire from the saddle after riding Noble Yeats, owned by his father Robert, in Saturday’s Grand National.
Waley-Cohen, 39, was the first amateur to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup for 30 years when he steered Long Run to victory in 2011, and also won the King George VI Chase at Kempton Park on the same horse in 2011 and 2012. – Guardian