Both will be looking for convincing performances in this three mile Grade Two test, named after 2015 Grand National hero Many Clouds, to justify their Cheltenham hopes.
First, Cloudy Dream. Second in last season’s Arkle trophy to Nicky Henderson’s Altior, the grey was a well-beaten second to the impressive Fox Norton in last month’s Shloer Chase at Cheltenham.
Though Fox Norton is sticking to two miles – Colin Tizzard’s chaser heads the field for today’s Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown – it is thought a longer drip will play to the strengths of Cloudy Dream.
“It’s his first time over three miles. We’d like to see if he stays the trip or not,” said trainer Malcolm Jefferson’s daughter and assistant Ruth.
“The ground is softer than ideal, but it’s the same for everyone. The horse seems happy and looks well in himself. There are no obvious excuses before the race.
“We’ll know more after about whether he’s a Gold Cup horse.”
Victory would be poignant – Cloudy Dream is owned by Trevor Hemmings whose aforementioned Many Clouds collapsed and died after putting up a heroic performance to beat the previously invincible Thistlecrack at Cheltenham in January on one of racing’s saddest days of 2017.
His three rivals include Brian Ellison’s Defintly Red who won notable three mile races at Wetherby and Doncaster last season before being pulled up in the Grand National when jockey Danny Cook’s tack became dislodged in a schmozzle at Becher’s Brook.
Though the horse, owned by Tickhill’s Phil Martin, plugged on to finish third to the impressive Bristol De Mai in Wetherby’s Charlie Hall Chase, Ellison had hoped for better beforehand and blamed the very tacky going for the slightly disappointing performance.
With conditions at Aintree expected to be testing following wind, snow and frost – the course must pass an 8.30am inspection – Ellison expects the race to be a real stamina test. “As long as it is loose ground, he should be fine,” said the trainer. “He’s won on soft before. He just doesn’t like it tacky. It’s a good test.”