DANNY COOK knows what it takes to win at Haydock – his association with Our Vic helped to launch his career.
Now the Thirsk-based rider, enjoying a career-best season, hopes history will repeat itself aboard the Sue and Harvey Smith-trained Cloudy Too in the Betfred Grand National Trial over three-and-a-half stamina-sapping miles.
The combination were runaway winners of the three-mile Peter Marsh Chase at the Merseyside track last month, the 15-length margin slightly flattered by Brian Hughes parting company with Gas Line Boy when still in contention.
The consequences are the two chasers reopposing today with Cook’s mount 10lb worse off and having to shoulder top weight of 11st 12lb against horses of the calibre of Gas Line Boy and the Welsh National hero Mountainous who bids to continue first season trainer Kerry Lee’s winning streak.
Though the mudlark Mountainous will have a more daunting task in April when lining up in the Crabbies Grand National, Cloud Too – owned by Formulated Polymer Products – does not hold an entry in the world’s greatest steeplechase.
However, Cook believes the extra half mile, and hike in the handicap, are surmountable obstacles. “I think he has a good chance,” he told The Yorkshire Post. “He will love the ground and the trip will be fine.
“It’s a competitive race. You’ve got the Welsh National winner in there and Gas Line Boy was going well when he tipped up in the Peter Marsh. It’s going to be competitive but everyone at Craiglands Farm (Smith stable) tells me that he’s in good nick at home.
“He gave me an unbelievable feel the last day. He was going within his comfort zone. He was A1. I was just trying to keep hold of his head and get into a rhythm, go in and pop the fences. You don’t want to go too long at them – it takes it out of horses and you need to save something for the end.”
A measure of Cloudy Too’s task is the fact that the David Pipe-trained Our Vic, a Grade One-winning chaser, was narrowly denied in Haydock’s Grand National Trial in 2010 a month after winning the Peter Marsh.
Asked to compare the two horses, Cook offers this assessment: “Cloudy Too is a lot more ground dependent and a lot more of a true stayer. Our Vic was a classy horse and I was only riding him at the end of his career. With Cloudy Too, he feels that he could be in his prime and loving his racing.”
Now 10, the Peter Marsh Chase was the horse’s first win since landing the Rowland Meyrick Chase at Wetherby on Boxing Day in 2013. However, the horse then struggled because of his high handicap rating before requiring treatment for a fibrillating heart.
Yet his gradual return to form has coincided with the aforementioned Smiths recording their 1,000th winners under National Hunt rules and their stable jockey being in the form of his life thanks to horses like Wakanda who has won three Listed races this season.
Cook is already on the 33-winner mark for the current campaign – his previous best was 31 last year – and he attributes this to the faith shown by owners and trainers like the Smiths, Brian Ellison and John Quinn.
As well as Cloudy Too, Cook is looking forward to the Smith-trained Vintage Clouds stepping up to three miles for the Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle. “He’s a smashing horse and he will love the heavy ground,” he said.
Today will also see the popular veteran Mr Moonshine make a long-awaited comeback in the Pertemps Network Handicap Hurdle. Though it will take a miracle for the veteran to make the 40-runner Grand National cut, Cook is hoping for a good run following a long lay-off.
“I’ve only ridden him once and he stopped very quickly in last year’s Sky Bet Chase at Doncaster. We found a little problem. It was one of those niggly ones. Hopefully he can come back and show what he can do,” says Cook who hopes Straidnahanna, a winner at Catterick on Monday, could develop into a Scottish National contender.
“All I want to do is repay the faith shown by owners and trainers. That means more to me than anything else. People using me seem to have a lot of faith in me. That makes the job easier. And the same with horses. It makes a difference having a good horse under you.”