Midnight Shadow and Ryan Mania earn high praise for Paddy Power Gold Cup win from victorious trainer Sue Smith

IT is ironic that the person who appeared most surprised by Midnight Shadow’s stirring win in the prestigious Paddy Power Gold Cup was the victorious horse’s trainer Sue Smith.

Midnight Shadow and Ryan Mania on their way to winning the Paddy Power Gold Cup at Cheltenham.

Her reticence had nothing to do with her unflinching faith in Cyril and Aafke Clarke’s horse who has been a stable star since winning his Bumper at Newcastle five years ago under now retired rider Robert Hogg.

Nor Midnight Shadow’s preparation – the chaser is ridden most days by Reece Jarosiewicz who was certain that the eight-year-old was in the form of his life.

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Put simply, Smith and her husband Harvey, the showjumping legend, know – from experience – how difficult it is to win any race at Cheltenham. They don’t complain.

Cheers as Midnight Shadow returns to the Cheltenham winners' enclosure after winning the Paddy Power Gold Cup for Sue Smith and Ryan Mania.

They just get on with it and, in turn, show why Yorkshire and Northern jump racing can prosper if owners put their horses – and faith – in trainers here.

“We just get on and do the best we can with what we’ve got,” said the Bingley trainer as she reflected on an extraordinary race as Midnight Shadow became just the third Yorkshire horse to win the celebrated race.

Yet her modesty does not do justice to one of the most dramatic renewals of the Paddy Power Gold Cup after Midnight Shadow travelled superbly under Ryan Mania throughout a two-and-a- half mile race contested at a frenetic pace.

Always prominent, Mania refused to be intimidated – and held his ground – on the downhill run to the home bend as he challenged 2020 winner Coole Cody for the lead.

Midnight Shadow and Ryan Mania clear a fence in the Paddy Power Gold Cup.

And then the drama began. Coole Cody fell at the penultimate fence, leaving the race at Midnight Shadow’s mercy and only the last obstacle to jump.

Amid deafening noise from the 33,000-strong crowd, however, Mania’s mount stumbled on landing – a less balanced rider could have come to grief – and Midnight Shadow lost momentum.

Yet, as the horse regained his equilibrium, the pursuing Protektorat and Lalor were closing remorselessly with every stride.

However, as the gap closed to a length, Midnight Shadow found a second wind with Mania attributing the late drama to his mount idling when left so far in front by Coole Cody’s fall.

Sue Smith reacts after Midnight Shadow won the Paddy Power Gold Cup.

Now connections are eyeing the King George VI Chase on Boxing Day.

They believe Kempton’s configuration will help the horse step up in trip to three miles and make the most of his early speed – Midnight Shadow previously won a Scottish Champion Hurdle – and, in the words of Smith, his “huge engine”.

“It was terrifying to watch! There aren’t many horses that could have done what he’s done at the last and I just thought ‘that’s it’ – but he just picked himself up and kept going,” said the trainer as she praised the work ethic of the whole team at her stables and embraced the aforementioned Jarosiewicz as he led the victor into the hallowed winners’ enclosure.

“It’s out of this world, we only had one horse to bring down here (Cheltenham) and he is a good horse – he’s always been a good horse – so he’s paid us back today. It’s magic.

“Nowadays it’s nice for us because you don’t often come across a horse like this and he’s a very special horse.

“I’m probably a bit more emotional because I’m that much older! It is special and it’s special for everyone because we’re only a small yard and the northern yards don’t get to do this very often, so it’s lovely.

“I’ve got 45-50 at the yard but they’re not all Midnight Shadows! These are once-in-a-lifetime horses, the same as Auroras Encore (2013 Grand National winner) was and that old boy is stood in a field is looking very well now.”

Midnight Shadow was purchased at Doncaster Sales by the trainer’s husband as the Clarkes looked to increase their interest racing following initial success with Smooth Stepper.

As for Mania, this was his biggest success since returning to the sport two years ago after hanging up his race-riding boots in November 2014.

“He got a little bit lonely which he can do in his races if he is in front for too long,” said the jockey who said the crowd reaction was in complete contrast to the near-silence when he won on Vintage Clouds at the Cheltenham Festival during lockdown. “In fairness, he was never going to get beat as he is very game. He is a jockey’s dream and I’m very lucky to ride him.”

Meanwhile, Nube Negra put down a marker in the two-mile chase division as he registered an impressive victory in the Shloer Chase, yesterday’s highlight at Cheltenham.

Second to Put The Kettle On in last season’s Queen Mother Champion Chase, the form was reversed in this tantalising renewal.

Nube Negra surged up the finishing hill from the veteran Politologue and Put The Kettle On who never travelled under Harry Skelton.

“I’m chuffed to bits for the horse. Some said he might have been lucky to be second in the Champion Chase, but I thought that was a strong race today,” said the rider’s brother Dan who trains the horse.