Grand National silver lining for Many Clouds?
The Cheltenham Gold Cup may be the prime spring target for Many Clouds, but will the Grand National start to come under serious consideration for the Hennessy Gold Cup winner?
The Grand National odds were certainly causing a stir this past week after it was confirmed Many Clouds will be given an entry for Aintree’s April spectacular.
However, Many Clouds’ trainer Oliver Sherwood is doing his best to dampen any expectations that the eight-year-old will be one of the 40 runners lining up for the National.
"He will have an entry for the National," Sherwood told Channel Four. "That’s more of an insurance policy if things go wrong Gold Cup wise. I personally think it’s a year too soon for him for the National. It’s something to dream about for next season."
It is easy to understand why Sherwood is reluctant to send Many Clouds to Aintree this year. Only two eight-year-olds have won the race since 1983 – Party Politics in 1992 and Bindaree a decade later.
It is also rare for any horse to try to double up in both races, especially on the back of a strong showing at Cheltenham.
Master Oats won the 1995 Gold Cup before finishing seventh in the National as a nine-year-old. He had also fallen in the National the year before.
Synchronised, meanwhile, won the 2012 Gold Cup before suffering a fatal fall early in the National when he tried to follow up.
Targeting the Gold Cup with Many Clouds this season is certainly not wishful thinking from Sherwood after the way the horse won the Hennessey. He jumped well and stayed on strongly that day – attributes he will need at Cheltenham.
But they are also characteristics that would suit Many Clouds around Aintree. And, with Sherwood anticipating continued improvement from the horse, this season would appear to offer the best chance of him getting a fair weight to race off after he was raised 10lbs to a mark of 161 for winning the Hennessey.
If Many Clouds improves the seven to 10 pounds which Sherwood expects him to in order to be a realistic challenger to the likes of Silviniaco Conti in the Gold Cup, then his handicap mark for the Grand National in 2016 will be through the roof.
No horse has carried more than 11st 6lbs to victory in the Grand National since Red Rum in the 1970s. It is conceivable to think Many Clouds would be handed at least that weight next year, if he runs well in the Gold Cup this season.
Many Clouds definitely has strong enough Grand National connections. His jockey Leighton Aspell, who has ridden him in every race, won the 2014 National on Pineau De Re.
The horse’s owner Trevor Hemmings also loves to have a runner in the Aintree marathon and has been successful twice with Hedgehunter in 2005 and Ballabriggs in 2011.
It is sensible that Many Clouds has been given the insurance policy of a National entry, especially if he were to suffer an early fall in the Gold Cup.
The next few weeks should tell us more about where Many Clouds will be heading to in the spring. The Argento Chase at Cheltenham at the end of January is his No.1 target, with the Irish Hennessey at Leopardstown and the Denman Chase at Newbury the back-up options.
A big run next time out could see Many Clouds’ rating take him out of realistic National contention anyway.
But failure to sparkle against rival Gold Cup contenders would actually turn Many Clouds into a very interesting Grand National proposition indeed.