OLIVER Sherwood “couldn’t be happier” with Many Clouds as the Crabbies Grand National hero heads to Kelso for his final prep race before bidding to become the first horse since Red Rum to win successive renewals of the world-famous Aintree marathon.
After being well-beaten by the resurgent Cue Card in Wetherby’s Charlie Hall Chase last October, Sherwood’s star raced with distinction when narrowly beaten by Cheltenham Gold Cup hopeful Don Poli at Aintree in December – it was a hard-fought race – before chasing home Hennessy hero Smad Place at Cheltenham.
“Fingers crossed, everything has gone perfectly well of late,” said Sherwood ahead of the totepoolliveinfo.com Premier Chase at Kelso.
“He schooled this week and that went nicely and we couldn’t be happier. Everything has gone according to plan.
“This race looked the obvious one to aim at as the conditions suit him and the ground seems fine.”
Regular jockey Leighton Aspell, who will be aiming for a third successive National victory if all goes to plan at Kelso, said: “He’s very, very well. This race just fits in perfectly, time-wise, and hopefully all goes well.
“You don’t want a slog but soft is fine for him. It looks the perfect race.”
Paul Nicholls sends Unioniste on the long journey back up to Kelso, having won there last time out.
The John Hales-owned grey had been out of form this season before bouncing back to win the Ivan Straker Memorial at the track last time out.
Many Clouds is not the only National winner competing today – 2014 victor Pineau De Re, now 13, won in the Greatwood Veterans Chase at Newbury.
Though the Dr Richard Newland-trained Pineau De Re won earlier in the season at Carlisle, he was pulled up at Chepstow last Saturday.
“The National will probably be his last race, we’d love to get him there and show what he can do,” said Newland.
“At home he shows as much as ever – in his comfort zone, he’s full of himself – but as he showed at Carlisle he retains plenty of ability.
“For whatever reason he didn’t enjoy it last week, it was a bit of a cavalry charge down to the first hurdle and they took him off his feet.”
Opponents to Pineau De Re include Fergal O’Brien’s ultra-consistent Alvarado, who has been fourth in the last two Grand Nationals.
Lightly raced in recent years, it is no surprise connections train him with one race in mind all season. “Alvarado is having his first run of the year and it will be good to get him out,” said O’Brien.
There will also be potential National clues at Naas tomorrow when Goonyella, winner of last season’s Midlands National at Uttoxeter, lines up in the Leinster National.
Trained by Jim Dreaper, the race marks the comeback of young jockey Jonathan Burke following a lay-off with a neck injury. Burke is one of the best riding prospects on either side of the Irish Sea.