SUE Smith’s staying steeplechaser Vintage Clouds has been given a surprising entry in the Randox Health Grand National.
Connections had initially said that the popular grey, owned by Trevor Hemmings, would not line up in the Aintree marathon on April 4.
A first fence faller in last year’s National, Vintage Clouds failed to take to Aintree’s unique fences in last month’s Becher Chase.
He was pulled up by jockey Danny Cook shortly after ploughing through the Chair – the biggest obstacle on the world famous course – following a number of bad jumping errors at earlier fences.
“He won’t go in the National. Trevor has said ‘don’t put him in’,” Smith told The Yorkshire Post at the time.
Having discussed it at length with Mr Hemmings, we decided, that having won so well in the Peter Marsh, it was worth keeping our options open until nearer the time, despite saying in the aftermath that he would not go back to Aintree.Sue Smith
“It didn’t work out for him, he doesn’t have a cut at the fences and he doesn’t enjoy it. Some horses, it doesn’t suit. We’re going to stick with regular fences.”
But the trainer, who saddled Auroras Encore to National glory in 2013, says she, and Hemmings, are simply keeping their options open after Vintage Clouds put up a career-best performance to win the Grade Two Peter Marsh Chase at Haydock 10 days ago.
And despite Cook, and others, saying emphaticaly in the immediate aftermath of the Peter Marsh win that a return to Aintree was definitely not on the cards, a rethink has since taken place following conversations between the owner and trainer.
This is because the convincing nature of the seven-length Haydock victory virtually guarantees Vintage Clouds a place in the National – only the top 40 in the handicap will make the cut for a race that could see Gordon Elliott’s Tiger Roll bid to make history and win the race for a third successive year.
And the race means more than any other to Hemmings whose evocative white, yellow and green colours have been previously carried to victory by Hedgehunter, Ballabriggs and Many Clouds.
“After careful consideration we have decided to enter Vintage Clouds for the Grand National,” confirmed Smith who trains on Baildon Moor. “Having discussed it at length with Mr Hemmings, we decided, that having won so well in the Peter Marsh, it was worth keeping our options open until nearer the time, despite saying in the aftermath that he would not go back to Aintree.”
Entries will also feature Brian Ellison’s Definitly Red, who chased home Vintage Clouds in the Peter Marsh Chase.
The Malton trainer is specifically campaigning the veteran, owned by retired Tickhill businessman Phil Martin, for the National.
Definitly Red previously contested the National in 2017 when he had to be pulled up by Cook after the jockey’s saddle slipped in a melee at Becher’s Brook on the first circuit.
Also being entered is Phil Kirby’s Top Ville Ben, who won Wetherby’s Rowland Meyrick Chase on Boxing Day under Tommy Dowson.
The horse plugged on to finish third behind Gold Cup contenders Santini and Bristol De Mai in the Cotswold Chase at Cheltenham on Saturday.
It was a performance that confirmed to Kirby, who trains near Catterick, that Top Ville Ben, a rising star of the steeplechasing division, isn’t good enough for the Gold Cup yet.
Owned by the Harbour Rose Partnership, Top Ville Ben’s high handicap mark will be sufficient to make the National line-up.
But the Grade One Betway Bowl on the opening day of the National meeting will also come under consideration.
“He will get an entry for the National and then we will decide,” Kirby told The Yorkshire Post.
“I thought he ran well at Cheltenham but it may just take time to get used to these better races and their pace. e will just give him as many options as we can in order to give him the best chance of winning a big race.”
Meanwhile, former winner One For Arthur will make an appearance at either Kelso or Haydock before bidding for a second victory in the National.
It is three years since Lucinda Russell’s stable star became only the second Scottish-trained winner of the National when coming from last to first under an inspired Derek Fox.
So far this term the 10-year-old has run with credit at Kelso before finishing fifth in the Becher Chase – the race where Vintage Clouds blundered so badly.
Russell has been delighted with her charge since and is keen to give him just one more run before sending him back to Merseyside – with the Edinburgh Gin Chase at Kelso on February 13 currently favoured over Haydock’s Grand National Trial two days later.
“We’ve just entered him for the Grand National and we’ve also entered him for the National Trial at Haydock,,” said the Kinross handler.
“His preferred option is the race at Kelso.
“But we’ve got snow here this morning and it makes sense to keep all bases covered.
“He seems in very good form. After the Becher we said we’d wait until the National weights come out before we run him again.
“I actually think he ran better in the Becher this year than he did during the season he went on to win the National.
“We’ve been saying for a while we think he’s moving better and feels better this year.
“If we can keep him that way between now and April, I think we will go there with a great chance.”
The weights for the race will be revealed on February 11 at a ceremony in Liverpool.