Jockey Leighton Aspell claimed a second successive victory in the English Grand National on Saturday when Many Clouds beat the determined Saint Are to clinch a third triumph in the prestigious race for owner Trevor Hemmings. Aspell had won the race in 2014 aboard Pineau de Re, who finished 12th on this occasion, but the victory for the Oliver Sherwood trained horse marked a return to form after a disappointing effort behind Coneygree in the Cheltenham Gold Cup during March.
With a field of 39 horses contesting the 2015 renewal of the Grand National, there was much interest in the performance of favourite Shutthefrontdoor to be ridden by champion jockey Tony McCoy in his last ever ride around the famous Aintree obstacles, but the expected last minute gamble on his horse never really materialised.
As the runners and riders embarked upon the first of two circuits in the 4 miles and four furlongs race, outsiders Rebel Rebellion and Bob Ford set the early pace with most of the favoured horses content to bide their time on drying ground. Balthazar King was one of the more significant early departures from the race and as the horses approached Becher’s Brook for the second time, Soll and The Druids Nephew assumed the leadership with Shutthefrontdoor, Many Clouds and Saint Are in close attendance.
At the 26th of 30 fences, The Druids Nephew slipped after leading when jumping the obstacle. He appeared to be travelling ominously easy at the time and was justifying his position as arguably the best handicapped horse in the race. From that moment, Many Clouds asserted his authority and was never overtaken as he claimed victory from Saint Are with Monbeg Dude finishing a creditable third after a far from trouble-free passage during the race.
For Many Clouds, the race proved that he is a difficult horse to pass once a lead has been established and his poor performance in the Cheltenham Gold Cup remains a mystery. That race remains his only defeat in five outings this season although a lack of genuine pace may have proved to be his undoing.
Ample stamina appears to be one the key ingredients in the armoury of Many Clouds, a key missing element which may have accounted for Shutthefrontdoor failing to mount a serious challenge to the winner from the final two fences onwards.
It is expected that Many Clouds will return to Aintree next season to defend his title and the original plan of trainer Oliver Sherwood was to bypass this year’s race and target the 2016 renewal. At only 8 years of age, there is still time for the horse to claim many more prizes but there must also be some concern as to the immediate reaction of Many Clouds to several of his victories.
The horse appears to overheat after the completion of a race which enforced the dismounting of Leighton Aspell soon after the finish on Saturday. Although, many horse racing fans will be eagerly anticipating the seasonal reappearance of Many Clouds for the 2015-16 national hunt campaign, it is general health of the horse which must considered the most overriding issue for both the owner, trainer and stable staff.