EVEN though Yorkshire’s Grand National winner Auroras Encore is still due – weather permitting – to make his long-awaited seasonal reappearance in the William Hill Rowland Meyrick Chase on Boxing Day, it would be remiss to discount the chances of stablemate Cloudy Too and his young rider, Jonathan England.
While heavy rain at Wetherby is likely to be an inconvenience to Sue Smith’s ageing Aintree hero, testing conditions are likely to play to the strengths of Cloudy Too, who could prove to be the biggest threat to Malcolm Jefferson’s 2012 winner Cape Tribulation and course specialist Wayward Prince.
Four years junior to Auroras Encore, who will turn 12 on New Year’s Day, Cloudy Too has struck up an effective rapport with 22-year-old Jonathan England, who is number two to Ryan Mania at the Smith stable on rolling moorland above Bingley and Baildon.
Horse and rider clicked over hurdles at Newcastle in March, 2012 – and the partnership has been retained.
That special rapport was seen at its best last month when Cloudy Too and England pulled clear of the JP McManus-owned Tap Night, the mount of AP McCoy, to take the Colin Parker Memorial Intermediate Chase at Carlisle.
The most significant victory in England’s career to date, he hopes to reward the faith that has been shown to him by Smith and her husband Harvey, the former show-jumper, and England’s five-pound weight allowance will be significant if the conditions put a premium on stamina.
“He should put up a bold show,” said the jockey, who nominated Cloudy Too as the best of his six booked rides at Wetherby on Thursday.
“I was with Evan Williams in Wales and got the chance to come up here just over two years ago. Sue and Harvey have stayed loyal, they have looked after me well. The horse used to pull hard, but we’ve managed to get him to settle.
“It’s good that they like to be loyal to their riders and give young lads a chance. Carlisle was brilliant. It was first time out, but he was fit going there and I had plenty of confidence that day. Our lad is a relentless galloper and has a good cruising speed. He just keeps galloping and does like some cut in the ground. Conditions should be ideal.”
England is riding with confidence after young chaser Mwaleshi’s eye-catching win at Haydock last Saturday. Like the jockey, he’s one to watch. “He’s special. He was awesome. He isn’t very big but he is very bold,” enthused the rider.
The challenge for England is to take that confidence into one of the biggest races of his career – and Smith has few doubts about Cloudy Too’s wellbeing. “He should love it. He copes with the ground and he’s won around Wetherby before,” said the trainer. “We’re hopeful of a good run from him. He’s only a second-season horse over fences.”
She was slightly more reticent about Auroras Encore, who has not raced since being pulled up in the Scottish National two weeks after Aintree. “I think the Gods are conspiring against us with the weather. The little horse is in good form. He probably will run, we have to make a start somewhere,” added Smith.