The four-mile marathon is being delayed by 24 hours to take account of Prince Philip’s funeral and Smith is hopeful that her stable can win the race for the first time.
The Trevor Hemmings-owned grey certainly has previous experience of the race, having finished seventh, third and sixth in the 2017, 2018 and 2019 renewals respectively on Scotland’s west coast.
The popular 11-year-old, the mount of former Grand National-winning jockey Ryan Mania, heads to Ayr on the back of a heart-warming win in last month’s Ultima Handicap Chase at Cheltenham.
Incredibly, Vintage Clouds was lining up in the Cheltenham race for the fifth successive season – further testament to his consistency – and that form was further boosted when Happygolucky, the runner-up in the Ultima, won at Aintree on Randox Grand National day last weekend for trainer Kim Bailey and jockey David Bass.
However, it means the West Yorkshire challenger has 11st 7lb to carry in a race where younger, and better-handicapped, horses come into their own on Ayr’s demanding third and final circuit where its showcase race will be won and lost.
“He’s in great form going there,” reported Smith, whose Auroras Encore was beaten on the line in the 2012 Scottish Grand National before conquering Aintree 12 months later.
“The ground has quickened up quite a lot but the man there (clerk of the course Graeme Anderson) is doing a good job with the watering.
“Vintage Clouds is well in himself but he has got a lot more weight. You’re also looking at four miles – Cheltenham was three miles – but he’s pretty consistent and is in very good form in himself. We are hopeful he will run a good race.”
That was illustrated by social media videos of Vintage Clouds rolling in the mud at the High Eldwick stables on Baildon Moor where Smith, and her husband Harvey, train.
Vintage Clouds’s win at Cheltenham, also capping the comeback of Mania, who walked away from racing in November, 2014, before making a welcome return five years later, has also been one of the most popular of a National Hunt season dominated by Irish-trained horses.
The victory of Vintage Clouds at jump racing’s most celebrated meeting was also the first by the Smiths for 15 years since the front-running Mister McGoldrick – their sole previous winner – prevailed in 2008 under Dominic Elsworth.
Asked what the latest win, and reaction of the racing public, has meant, Smith told The Yorkshire Post: “A lot. It’s great to have a Cheltenham Festival winner. In fact it’s great to have any Cheltenham winner but a Festival winner? You can’t beat it. We could do with a few more to go with it!
“Everybody was delighted and we got a lot of letters, emails, telephone calls and text messages to say well done. It was marvellous to get a Northern winner and to see the horse appreciated. He has been a very consistent horse, and he’s run in a lot of tough races, but he’s a smashing horse to deal with.”
Vintage Clouds heads a three-strong Yorkshire challenge with the progressive Sam’s Adventure, trained at Malton by Brian Ellison, lining up under Henry Brooke, who has recovered from the concussion injury which saw him miss the National ride on Definitly Red a week ago.
The lightly-weighted Chef D’Oeuvre represents Guiseley trainer Sam England – her husband Jonathan will be in the saddle – while Callum Bewley, another jockey to have spent his formative riding years with the Smiths, rides top weight Aye Well for Scottish Borders trainer Harriet Graham.
Third to Cyrname in Wetherby’s Charlie Hall Chase, Aye Well was also third to Vintage Clouds at Cheltenham, but he, too, could be in the grip of the handicapper.
Meanwhile, champion jockey Brian Hughes partners Dingo Dollar as he finds himself four behind Harry Skelton in the 2020-21 title race with a week to go after his arch-rival rode a double at Ayr yesterday.
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