SUE SMITH is hopeful that Vintage Clouds can put down a Grand National marker in tomorrow’s Randox Health Becher Chase over the world-famous Aintree fences.
The Trevor Hemmings-owned grey was a first fence faller in this year’s National weeks after finishing a gallant second at the Cheltenham Festival.
And Smith hopes a clear round of jumping will put the staying steeplechaser on course for a second tilt at the National at Aintree.
The High Eldwick trainer, and her husband Harvey, are no strangers to success at Aintree.
They won the inaugural running of the Becher Chase – this recognised National trial starts in the far corner of the National course near to the Canal Turn – with Kildimo in 1992 just a handful of years after taking out a training licence.
Successful with Ardent Scout in the 2002 Becher Chase, they most memorably ended Yorkshire’s 53-year wait for a Grand National winner when 66-1 outsider Auroras Encore triumphed against the odds.
Smith has made no secret of the couple’s desire to win a second National – and their regard for Hemmings who has been one of their stable’s biggest supporters over the past three decades.
“The only thing I can tell you is that we are very pleased with Clouds leading up to the race,” she told The Yorkshire Post.
“If we can get away with the first couple of fences, and get into a good rhythm, we will be away.
“He’s ready to go.”
Smith says Vintage Clouds – fifth on his comeback run at Kelso when the yard’s runners were not in tip-top form – overjumped the first fence in the National after the long run to the first fence and that today’s more sedate start, the first fence comes up very quickly, is ideal.
“He just overjumped – he jumped it a bit like a showjumper,” she added.
“But it is good that we have this race – and the Grand Sefton later in the afternoon – for horses to get some experience of the National fences.
“If he runs and humps a good round, he should be in a good state for the National next year.”
Vintage Clouds will be ridden by the Smith’s stable jockey Danny Cook who has had to forego the ride on Brian Ellison’s Definitly Red who will now be partnered by the in-form Henry Brooke.
Winner of Aintree’s Grade Two Many Clouds Chase on the corresponding card for each of the past two years, the Malton trainer has opted to go for the Becher.
Not only was he dettered by the presence of Native River and Might Bite, first and second in the 2018 Cheltenham Gold Cup, in the Many Clouds Chase, but he believes the National – rather than the Gold Cup – will be the primary target for the 10-year-old next year.
Like Vintage Clouds too, Definitly Red’s only previous Grand National run came to an early end in 2017 when the aforementioned Cook’s saddle slipped shortly after clearing Becher’s Brook on the first circuit.
“In the Many Clouds, he was wrong at the weights with Native River and Might Bite,” explained owner Phil Martin, a retired Tickhill businessman.
“In my mind, he would have had little chance against horses of that calibre. And, if he’d put up a very good run, he would probably have gone up in the weights.
“I always preferred the Becher any way because I’d like him to get some more experience of the course before next year’s National.”
A quality field includes David Pipe’s course specialist Vieux Lion Rouge – victorious in the 2016 Becher under Tom Scudamore – and last year’s winner Walk In The Mill, the subsequent National fourth.
Lucinda Russell’s 2017 National winner One For Arthur looks to return to winning ways and the Scottish trainer is hopeful that Aintree’s supreme test will bring out the best in her horse. “He’s in great form,” she said. “We know he likes the track, obviously. The trip is probably a little bit on the short side for him – but if he can run a good, solid race and we can look forward to coming back to Aintree in the spring, we’ll be happy.”