Wetherby gave Hennessy hero winning feeling

CONFIDENCE: Many Clouds ridden by Leighton Aspell, right, wins the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury.

OLIVER SHERWOOD has explained Wetherby’s important role in the development of his Hennessy hero Many Clouds, who is now a leading contender for next year’s Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup.

The seven-year-old made a winning racecourse debut at the West Yorkshire track in February 2012, when he was a 12-length winner over Yorkist who, coincidentally, won at Carlisle on Sunday for Malton trainer Brian Ellison and jockey Danny Cook.

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Though Many Clouds lost a novice hurdle to Donald McCain’s Up And Go at Wetherby in January 2013, the Trevor Hemmings-owned horse gave an early glimpse of his class when running away with the William Hill Novices’ Chase on day two of the Yorkshire track’s Christmas meeting last December.

Though this was only a three-runner race, Many Clouds finished 16 lengths ahead of McCain’s Indian Castle – who was unplaced in last month’s Paddy Power Gold Cup – and a further five lengths in front of Sue Smith’s well-regarded Pinerolo, who runs in the colours of the McGoldrick Partnership.

“I’m a great believer in giving horses confidence,” Sherwood told The Yorkshire Post. “If they can win easy races, it is very good for a horse’s confidence.

“His first ever race was at Wetherby in a Bumper. He is a big horse and you wouldn’t want to be going around a Plumpton or a Fakenham – no disrespect to those courses – with him.

“A big galloping track suits him far better than a tight track. If there was a Gold Cup at Fakenham, I wouldn’t run there.

“Most horses, I believe, know when they have won. It’s no different to a cricketer scoring runs or a footballer scoring goals. There’s nothing better than scoring a century – or getting the winning goal in an important match.”

Though Sherwood says he would have been disappointed if his stable star had not finished in the first four in Saturday’s Hennessy Gold Cup, he is still slightly disbelieving that he has won Newbury’s heritage handicap for a second time following Arctic Call’s success 24 years previously.

Like many trainers, Sherwood has experienced many great highs in racing – only to then endure the lows when winners were virtually non-existent. He saddled just 15 winners in 2001-02 and it took the best part of a decade, and the arrival of horses like Many Clouds and chase prospect Puffin Billy, for him to get his career back on track.

Sherwood served his apprenticeship with the training legend Fred Winter and drew strength from the wisdom that was imparted by his hero and mentor.

“He always said you are only as good as the soldiers you’ve got to go to war with,” explained the trainer, whose brother Simon partnered the great Desert Orchid to a famous Gold Cup victory in 1989 for North Yorkshire owner Richard Burridge.

“I remember Fred telling me that if you’re successful doing what you are doing, don’t change it because it will come round. He was right, but it was a very long home straight – the last thing you wanted to see going to the last was AP McCoy on Merry King.”

However, Sherwood did have one very important person fighting his battle – Grand National-winning jockey Leighton Aspell.

The weighing room veteran has ridden Many Clouds in each of his 17 starts, winning seven times and being runner-up on five occasions, and Sherwood was disappointed that the jockey received a seven-day ban – and fine – for over-use of the whip.

“Rules are rules, but I thought it was a great piece of riding. He was only flicking at the horse, and I think some common sense and discretion should have been used,” explained Sherwood. “Leighton is a proper horseman. He’s not flashy, he’s not sexy as they say, but he gets the job done.

“I won’t have anyone else – he is part of the team big time – and it showed when all the staff came out to greet the horse as Many Clouds came back to the winner’s enclosure.

“I got into the car after the race and had 90 or 100 texts as well as Facebook messages. I’m too old for it; my wife looks after the social media, but the reaction has been quite humbling. I’m a very, very happy man and still doing a victory jig.”

As for the future, Sherwood was pleased to report that Many Clouds was sound and holds an entry in Ireland’s Grade One Lexus Chase at Leopardstown on December 28.

However, he suggested that Cheltenham’s Gold Cup trial in late January, or the Denman Chase back at Newbury in February, might be the next targets.

“He’s absolutely A1 which has surprised me. I thought he’d be lying down for 48 hours,” added Sherwood.

“Handicaps are out of the question now – I don’t think we’ll be back at Wetherby this season. I’d have thought the handicapper will put him up something like 6lb to 10lb. He’s got to go for these conditions races, so the Gold Cup does come into the equation.

“He has got to improve more again to warrant a place in the Gold Cup, but who’s to say he won’t, and the dream is still alive.”