Paul Nicholls admits only time will tell how much the Cheltenham Gold Cup has taken out of Clan Des Obeaux as he bids to get back on the winning trail in the Betway Bowl at Aintree.
After following up his King George triumph with a dominant display in the rescheduled Denman Chase at Ascot, the seven-year-old was strongly fancied to provide his trainer with a joint-record fifth Gold Cup success at last month’s Festival.
However, after travelling well for much of the journey, Clan Des Obeaux weakened on the run-in and finished fifth.
Nicholls hopes his charge can bounce back on Merseyside – provided his Cheltenham exertions have not left a mark.
He said: “You have to say, looking at Cheltenham, that he didn’t really stay the last little bit from the back of the last – but he still ran a really good race.
“He has made huge improvement this season in the way he has come on, and I’m looking forward to running him at Aintree. Being back on a flat track will suit him.
“He is a King George winner and a good horse in his own right. As long as he has not had a too hard a race at Cheltenham, he should go well.
“He was fresh and well on Saturday morning, and there was no debate about running him, but you don’t know how they have taken it until you run them.
“He seems fine and he looks great.”
The Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained Bristol De Mai ran his best race at Cheltenham to date in the Gold Cup three weeks ago – finishing two places ahead of Clan Des Obeaux in third.
The dual Betfair Chase hero found only Might Bite too strong in this race 12 months ago, with Clan Des Obeaux a place behind him, and Twiston-Davies is confident he can go one better.
“I’m very hopeful. I think on his Gold Cup run and his Betfair Chase run he is the one to beat,” said the Naunton handler.
“He ran well in this race last year and has run well on a lot of different tracks.
“I don’t think the ground really matters to him, and we’re looking forward to it.”
Kemboy was the shortest-priced of four Gold Cup runners for Willie Mullins – but unseated the trainer’s nephew David after the very first fence.
Mullins – who finally broke his Gold Cup duck with Al Boum Photo – hopes Kemboy’s relative freshness will give him the edge at Aintree.
“He is in good form, and we had no issues with him since he came back from Cheltenham,” said Mullins.
“Because of what happened in the Gold Cup he’s going into the race fresh and well – that’s the way we’re looking at it.
“We’ve been happy with him at home and we think Aintree should play to his strengths.”
Kemboy is one of three Irish challengers, along with the Gigginstown House Stud-owned pair of Henry de Bromhead’s Balko Des Flos and Road To Respect from Noel Meade’s yard.
Balko Des Flos has been largely disappointing since running out a brilliant winner of the Ryanair Chase at last year’s Cheltenham Festival – but Road To Respect is in good heart, judged on his third place behind Frodon and Bryony Frost in the Ryanair last month.
Meade said: “I’m very happy with him – he seems to have come out of Cheltenham really well.
“It’s a competitive race. But you won’t find many Grade 1s that aren’t, and I hope we have a big chance.”
The sextet is completed by Colin Tizzard’s Welsh Grand National hero and Gold Cup sixth Elegant Escape.