THERE were many in racing who thought that Yorkshire steeplechaser Vintage Clouds would never return to winning ways after plughing through famous Chair fence on Aintree’s iconic Grand National course.
Not jockey Danny Cook. After miraculously staying in the saddle during this gravity-defying blunder, he asked the grey to pop over the next fence in last month’s Becher Chase – the water jump – before pulling up.
“I just wanted him to jump a fence to get his confidence back,” Cook told The Yorkshire Post after the Sue and Harvey Smith-trained horse produced a near flawless round of jumping to land Haydock’s prestigious Grade Two Peter Marsh Chase.
Yet while the Trevor Hemmings-owned chaser is not due to be entered in this year’s National – he was a first fence faller last year and is clearly out of love with Aintree’s unique fences – this was one of the more pleasing equine comebacks of recent years.
Third in Haydock’s Tommy Whittle Chase after the Aintree near-disaster – Vintage Clouds escaped serious injury thanks to the safety modifications in the fences – he appeared to jump for fun in the Peter Marsh.
I just wanted him to jump a fence to get his confidence back.Danny Cook
Prominent throughout under Cook who was winning the race for a record fourth time, the 10-year-old was cantering as he led the field out of the back straight for the final time.
A fine jump at the fourth last confirmed his superiority and, from then onwards, the only question – jumping permitting – was the length of the winning margin.
“When he knows he is on the way home, he finds another two gears,” explained Cook who went on to praise assistant trainer Ryan Clavin and Reece Jarosiewicz, the horse’s devoted stable lad, for their perseverance and handling of Vintage Clouds.
“They’ve done a good job on him at home and he got his confidence back when third in the Tommy Whittle here.
“His home work has been A1 and when I schooled him on Wednesday I was just a passenger, he was fantastic.
“When I was still in front turning in I didn’t think anything would get by me. I’ve ridden some good horses in this race, I’ve been lucky.”
Cook’s joy was shared by Mick Meagher, racing manager to the aforementioned Hemmings, who enthused: “It’s great to win a big one with him, he deserved it,” said Meagher.
“He just didn’t like Aintree, I don’t think he’ll be going back there, but he jumped great today because he can kick the odd one out of the ground.
“That was the plan – today. We always thought he was a National horse, but he just doesn’t like it so we might go back to Cheltenham for the race he was second in last year (Ultima) and then maybe the Scottish National.
“He could even come back here for the National Trial,” added Meagher.
Vintage Clouds, eased down by Cook on the run-in, had seven lengths in hand over the runner-up Definitly Red who is now Grand National-bound for Malton trainer Brian Ellison and owner Phil Martin.
His run under top weight delighted jockey Henry Brooke who was equally enthused by the frontrunning Cornerstone Lad’s brave run in the Champion Hurdle Trial.
Winner of the Grade One Fighting Fifth Hurdle, the Mary Lofthouse-owned hurdler was only narrowly denied by the fast finishing winner Ballyandy and Pentland Hills despite having to concede weight to his rivals.
The closeness of the three-way finish prompted Brooke to declare: “He has to go for the Champion Hurdle on that performance, it was a mighty effort.”
And trainer Micky Hammond appeard to concur – provided that it was “a soft ground Cheltenham” in March to bring out the best in the rising star.