SUE SMITH hopes Vintage Clouds will be “spot on” for next month’s Randox Health Grand National after a brave second place finish on the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival.
The grey – owned and bred by three-time National winner Trevor Hemmings – chased home the Nicky Henderson-trained and Jeremiah McGrath-ridden Beware The Bear who, ironically, does not hold a National entry to the chagrin of connections.
Vintage Clouds was prominent throughout under Danny Cook and momentarily in the lead on the turn for home before the victor surged clear decisvely in the Ultima Handicap Chase.
However, Vintage Clouds never gave up – and was closing with every stride as the line came with the Hemmings-owned Lake View Lad, trained in Scotland by Nick Alexander and ridden by Middleham jockey Henry Brooke, third despite being burdened with top weight. He, too, ran a fine a National trial.
Smith, who trains at High Eldwick with her husband Harvey, was delighted with the run of her runner-up who had not raced since being pulled up in the Welsh National last December.
“We are absolutely delighted with him,” said Smith. “He jumped great and we couldn’t ask for more. He’s been a real star for us, always has. We couldn’t be more pleased. Hopefully now Aintree will be the main aim for him.”
At present 21 higher-rated horses need to come out of the National for Vintage Clouds to make the 40-runner cut – connections will be unlucky if the chaser misses the Aintree race on April 6.
“He doesn’t seem to be distressed by what he has done today and he will be absolutely spot on for the National,” added Smith.
Smith and Cook are due to team up with Joke Dancer on day two of the National Hunt Festival after the horse just made the cut for the Coral Cup.
Meanwhile, Catterick trainer Phil Kirby saddles Top Ville Ben, a two-time winner this season, in the Grade One RSA Chase – Sean Quinlan rides.