THE SKY could be the limit for two-time Wetherby winner Many Clouds after steeplechasing’s brightest new star provided resurgent trainer Oliver Sherwood with a second triumph in the Hennessy Gold Cup.
Twenty-four years after Arctic Call prevailed in the Newbury showpiece, there were emotional scenes in the winner’s enclosure as Sherwood’s entire team of staff greeted their conquering hero.
This is a trainer who enjoyed great highs – and then a long lull that prompted him to question his own abilities – before acquiring a team of horses that could take racing legend Fred Winter’s one-time assistant back to the big time.
They are headed by the Trevor Hemmings-owned Many Clouds who made a winning debut at Wetherby in February 2012 before showing his class by running away with a novice chase at the Yorkshire track last December.
Ridden superbly by veteran jockey Leighton Aspell who won this year’s Crabbie’s Grand National aboard Pineau De Re, the seven-year-old is likely to have one more race before a crack at the blue riband Cheltenham Gold Cup next March.
The Sherwood family know what it takes to win steeplechasing’s ultimate race for purists – it was the trainer’s brother, Simon, who was in the saddle 25 years ago when the one and only Desert Orchid, owned in North Yorkshire by Richard Burridge, outbattled the mudlark Yahoo amid scenes of delirium.
“This is special, it doesn’t happen to me,” said an emotional Sherwood whose nephew Jack had earlier won on Silsol. “I’m just chuffed to bits. He’s a very, very tough horse.”
Many Clouds was buried in the pack on the first circuit as What A Warrior, Annacotty and Le Reve set a strong gallop. However, their exertions soon told and they were swallowed up as the challengers were lined up in behind as the fancied Fingal Bay paid the price for a bad mistake at the second.
Top-weight Houblon Des Obeaux looked a likely winner as he headed in front of Many Clouds in the straight, with Merry King coming between horses under Tony McCoy as the 19-times champion sought one of the few major races still to elide him.
Many Clouds found plenty for Aspell after jumping the last, though, edging ahead on the run-in before eventually pulling three and a quarter lengths clear.
Houblon Des Obeaux hung on for second by a length, with Mike Tindall’s Monbeg Dude staying on with purpose for fourth – this, said trainer Michael Scudamore, was a great trial for a second crack at the National next April.
Aspell said: “I used his jumping just to get my position. I was very conscious not to be in front too early, this is his first time at the trip.”
There was a sting in the tail for Aspell, however, as he was suspended for seven days for using his whip above the permitted level and fined £1,800.
Though the in-form Richard Johnson was out of luck with the aforementioned Fingal Bay in the Hennessy, he did land a treble headlined by his come-from-behind win on Medinas in the bet365 Long Distance Hurdle. The big disappointment was Jonjo O’Neill’s Ladbrokes World Hurdle winner More Of That who could finish no better than third.
Paul Nicholls recorded his 100th Grade One success as Irving bounced back from a knock-out blow to win the StanJames.com Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle.
A heavy faller just three weeks ago at Wincanton when he took 15 minutes to rise to his feet, Irving and jockey Nick Scholfield tracked John Quinn’s mare Aurore D’Estruval into the straight where the winner’s superior speed shone through.
The first of his 100 top-level successes was brought up by See More Indians in the Feltham Novices’ Chase in 1993. “I never thought I would reach this landmark. There was only one man who believed in me,” said Nicholls. “That was Paul Barber, he’ll be watching from home and will be mighty proud of me.”
Meanwhile, Sue Smith’s Straidnahanna led from start to finish to win the Weatherbys Stallion Book Novices’ Limited Handicap Chase at Newcastle.
He jumped for fun in the hands of Danny Cook, having his first ride for the stable, and pulled 41 lengths clear of Stopped Out to win at 2-1.
“Sue and Harvey’s horses love it in front so I didn’t want to complicate things,” said Cook.
The trainer’s husband Harvey said: “I just hope the handicapper doesn’t kill him.”
Lieutenant Colonel gave Sandra Hughes her first Grade One triumph since the death of her father Dessie when winning the Bar One Racing Hatton’s Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse under Bryan Cooper.
Hughes said: “It was always Dad’s plan to stay over hurdles with him this year. He was beaten first time over fences so we decided to give him an extra year over hurdles.”
Cooper completed a Grade One double when the Willie Mullins-trained Valseur Lido won the Bar One Racing Drinmore Novice Chase. However The Tullow Tank, recently switched to the Hughes stable, never got into a challenging position and could finish only fifth.