OLIVER SHERWOOD remains hopeful that Aintree hero Many Clouds will be the horse to end the curse that has afflicted winners of the Grand National.
No winner of the world’s greatest steeplechase has won a subsequent race since Bindaree – victorious in 2002 – prevailed in the following year’s Welsh National.
It looked like Many Clouds, victorious in April for ever enthusiastic owner Trevor Hemmings, was about to end that jinx last Saturday when he headed the Willie Mullins-trained RSA Chase winner at the final fence in the Betfred Lotto £100k Cash Giveaway Chase at the Merseyside track.
However, Bryan Cooper’s mount – one of the ante-post favourites for the blue riband Cheltenham Gold Cup – pulled clear on the run-in to deny Sherwood and supporters of Many Clouds who was back to his best following a disappointing seasonal reappearance in Wetherby’s Charlie Hall Chase on October 31.
“He’s come out of the race absolutely A1. He went out in the paddock on Sunday and I’m very happy that we’re back on schedule,” said the Lambourn-based trainer.
“I haven’t had a chance to have a chat with Mick (Meagher, owner’s racing manager) about a plan yet, but he won’t run anywhere over Christmas. We’ll be looking from the new year onwards.
“The Cotswold Chase at Cheltenham in January could be on the agenda again, there’s the Denman Chase at Newbury and there’s also a conditions race up at Kelso that could be a possibility.
“I’d like him to have another two runs before the National.”
The Aintree jinx can be attributed to two factors – the stamina-sapping test over 30 fences and the winner being raised in the handicap as a result of their heroics.
However, with Many Clouds virtually at the top of the handicap after lugging 11st 9lb to victory in April, he will only have to carry one pound more next April when he will attempt to become the first two-time winner of the National since Red Rum in the Seventies.
As for Don Poli, his next port of call is likely to be the prestigious Lexus Chase at Leopardstown over the Christmas period – the aforementioned Cooper was lucky to keep the partnership in tact because of a slipped saddle.
However, Cooper was fulsome in his respect for Many Clouds, telling The Yorkshire Post: “That was a great run and Many Clouds will be the horse to beat next year if he repeats that form.”
Warren Greatrex has had a rethink over the next port of call for World Hurdle winner Cole Harden and he will be seen next in the Dornan Engineering Relkeel Hurdle at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day.
Having initially looked as if he was going to be well beaten on his reappearance at Newbury he stayed on pleasingly to be beaten just over six lengths by Thistlecrack.
Greatrex had the Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham on January 30 pencilled in, but will instead aim for the shorter race.
“Cole Harden came out of the race better than he has any other before,” said Greatrex.
“That was a very pleasing run as he stayed on strongly.
“I think we’ll look towards the two-and-a-half-mile race at Cheltenham as I just want to keep a bit more petrol in the tank for March as that is the day that we want him spot on. If I’d have got him fitter at home, he would have gone even closer at Newbury.”
Meanwhile, the trainer’s high opinion of La Bague Au Roi was further bolstered after she maintained her unbeaten status in convincing fashion in the Betfred Mobile Henrietta Knight Mares’ Standard Open National Hunt Flat at Huntingdon.
She proved her recent win at Aintree under North Yorkshire conditional rider Harry Bannister was no fluke when beating a qualified field after in-form Gavin Sheehan, the jockey who shot to prominence on the aforementioned Cole Harden, dictated terms from the front.
Greatrex said: “She is special and as good as you get. She had to do it the hard way, but we probably had the best rider (Gavin Sheehan) from the front on her.
“I’ve always said I hold her in high regard but I don’t think she was at her best either. She will go to Aintree for the Bumper in April. Getting the Spring weather on her back will help improve her. She has got a bright future.”
The unbeaten Peace And Co, victorious at Doncaster 12 months ago, is the star name among 11 possible runners in Saturday’s Stanjames.com International Hurdle at Cheltenham.
Nicky Henderson’s French recruit won each of his three starts in Britain last season, completing the hat-trick with a narrow victory over stable companion Top Notch in the Triumph Hurdle in March.
Sue Smith’s Wakanda, a gutsy winner of Newcastle’s Rehearsal Chase 10 days ago, could reappear in the Ryman Stationery Handicap Chase at Cheltenham on Friday.
Meanwhile, Sean Quinlan, who was taken to hospital after falling from the Smith-trained Mwaleshi at Aintree on Saturday, hopes to return to action at Doncaster this weekend.
Tomorrow’s meeting at Hexham has been abandoned because of waterlogging.