SUE SMITH will be double-handed as she bids to record her first Cheltenham Festival success since Mister McGoldrick triumphed a decade ago.
Her stable is represented by both Vintage Clouds and Wakanda in the Ultima Handicap Chase over three miles.
The only Yorkshire-trained runners on day one of the National Hunt Festival, it is testament to Smith’s prowess with staying steeplechasers that she has two genuine contenders for a competitive race that continues to increase in stature.
And, while the Trevor Hemmings-owned Vintage Clouds was still in contention when tripping up at the penultimate fence in last year’s contest that was won by Tom Scudamore’s dual winner Un Temps Pour Tout, Smith believes the grey heads to Cheltenham in better form.
Victorious at Aintree on his seasonal debut, Vintage Clouds was a gutsy fourth in Chepstow’s Welsh National after being badly hampered before finishing second in Wetherby’s Towton Novices Chase.
“He’s improved mentally quite a lot,” she told The Yorkshire Post. “He’s grown up. His jumping is a bit slicker.
“He’s so consistent that he deserves to get his head in front in a nice race. He’s going there in good form.”
Stable jockey Danny Cook rides Vintage Clouds who is likely to relish the rain-softened ground. Smith is also hopeful that conditions will suit the aforementioned Wakanda, owned by Margaret Scholey and her late husband Ray, and who has not raced since winning a five-way finish to Doncaster’s Sky Bet Trophy that was run on tacky ground.
Sean Quinlan, part of the Bingley trainer’s team, takes the ride and Smith said: “He’s a tough little horse who did his job nicely around Doncaster. He’s high enough in the weights – I hope it’s not too much of a bog.”