Cloudy Dream in Cheltenham Gold Cup stamina test

Jockey  Brian Hughes: Partners Cloudy Dream.
Jockey Brian Hughes: Partners Cloudy Dream.
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THE poignancy will be palpable if Cloudy Dream finally gets his head in front and wins today’s Denman Chase at Newbury.

Runner-up on his three starts this season, it is just over a week since the grey’s popular trainer Malcolm Jefferson died.

His death saw racing unite in grief for a quietly-spoken trainer who was one of the sport’s most respected gentlemen.

Now, with the licence of the Malton yard held by his daughter Ruth, she has the unenviable task of coming to terms with her own loss – and staying strong for her grieving family – while overseeing the Cheltenham Festival preparations of top prospects like Cloudy Dream.

Second at both Aintree and Cheltenham before returning to the Merseyside track to chase home Brian Ellison’s stable star Definitly Red, today’s result will determine whether Cloudy Dream – who runs in the colours of top owner Trevor Hemmings – has the stamina for the three-and-a-quarter-mile Cheltenham Gold Cup.

If not, a drop back in trip to two-and-a-half miles for the Ryanair Chase will be the target where rivals will almost certainly include highly-regarded stablemate Waiting Patiently.

As such, Jefferson is simply hoping that today’s runners – last year’s Gold Cup third Native River and the Paul Nicholls-trained Saphir Du Rheu make up the field – go at a genuine pace rather than dawdling and allowing the race to turn into a sprint.

“He’s fit and well and we’ve always felt he could get three miles. He’s definitely not a two-miler any more and whether two-and-a-half is best trip now, we’re not sure,” she said.

“This race should tell us a lot about where we’re going. He’s in the Ryanair Chase and the Gold Cup at Cheltenham and he’s up against two horses who ran well in the Gold Cup last year.

“Those two haven’t run for a while, but in a way we want them to run up to their best as we want to learn whether our horse is a Gold Cup horse or not. I hope they go a good gallop and what will be will be.”

Cloudy Dream, who has never been out of the first two in 10 starts to date over fences, will be ridden by Brian Hughes, who also partners Malton trainer John Quinn’s Project Bluebook in the fiercely competitive Betfair Hurdle – formerly the Schweppes.

In a strong Yorkshire challenge, he is joined by Nietzsche for the aforementioned Ellison and leading fancy Irish Roe, who is owned and trained by Northallerton farmer Peter Atkinson and his wife Lucinda.

The couple train just a couple of horses and they acquired Irish Roe for just 2,000 euros. Since then, the mare has won three bumpers and four hurdle races from just 11 starts.

She produced a career-best performance when chasing home the similarly prolific Maria’s Benefit at Doncaster a fortnight ago under Henry Brooke and Atkinson, who also owns Irish Roe, is typically phlegmatic about the chances of his horse. “Just because she’s favourite doesn’t mean she’s going to win, but she seems well and we’re happy with her at home,” he said.

“She went up 11lb for the run at Doncaster, so she’s rated 145 now and runs in this off 134. She’s not going to have the chance to run in a handicap off 134 again, or at least not for a while.

“There’s a huge amount of money on offer and this probably won’t happen to us again. The main thing we want is for her to come out of it in one piece and we can live to fight another day. Horses like this don’t come around too often for people like us.”

There would be no more popular winner than Lalor if he can strike gold for Kayley Woollacott and her late husband Richard.

The racing world was left shocked after it was announced late last month that Woollacott, who trained in Devon, had died aged 40 after battling mental illness.

Lalor, the winner of a Grade Two bumper at Aintree last spring, has been placed on each of his three starts over hurdles to date. As absent friends are remembered, it promises to be a day of high emotion.