Can Many Clouds Achieve a Historic Grand National Double?
The curtain may have fallen on the Cheltenham Festival for this year, but there is still plenty of quality National Hunt racing to come in 2016.
Of course, the fair-weather punters’ favourite renewal is the Grand National, a traditional jolly for the bookmakers, and in April a truly special story could unfold if Many Clouds is able to successfully retain the title he fought so hard to win last year. He would become the first horse to win back-to-back Grand Nationals since the legendary Red Rum in 1973-74.
So can he get the job done and complete a historic double?
Clearly, the statistics show that the odds are firmly stacked against him, but for want of a better cliché history is there to be broken: just look at Leighton Aspell, Many Clouds’ regular pilot, who became the first jockey since Brian Fletcher (who squired Red Rum to that momentous double) to win consecutive Grand Nationals after he led Saphir De Re to victory in 2014. He would become the first man in history (dating back more than 200 years no less) to complete the hat-trick should he be successful here.
In truth, Many Clouds has done little since the National last April to warrant his current position as bookmakers’ favourite for this year’s renewal. He finished sixth of seven upon his return in a bit of a horrorshow performance on Halloween ‘15, and second place finishes to Don Poli and Smad Place – while there’s no shame in being bested by that pair – suggested he was a fraction off the pace.
But what an eye-catching return to form he made at Kelso earlier in March. With the trusty Aspell on board, Many Clouds romped home by ten lengths in a 2m 7f chase on soft ground; in the process outpacing the much-fancied likes of Unioniste and Sausalito Sunrise. That victory has grabbed the attention of the betting public.
There can be no doubting the credentials of this Oliver Sherwood trained behemoth, with victories in the Hennessy Gold Cup and the Cotswold Chase firm reminders of the quality on offer. Those are amongst an elite band of three-mile plus races in the UK and Ireland, so repeated success shows that Many Clouds is a genuine contender, rather than a flash in the pan.
The link-up with Aspell has proven a prolific one as well: the nine-year-old has finished in the top two places in 17 of his 24 starts, with 10 of those coming as the victor. Five wins in his last nine – covering the period from the summer of 2014 – is further testament to this powerhouse’s credentials.
That said, last year’s Grand National triumph was as much a victory of sheer bloody mindedness as it was one of quality – the horse was fading inside the final furlongs just as Saint Are, the eventual runner-up, was gaining ground, but you cannot fault the efforts of a stayer that either led or was in and around the leading pack for the duration of the four-mile stretch.
It has already been announced that Many Clouds will carry the top weight in the April 9 encounter – a whopping 11st 10lbs – which is a pound heavier than in his 2015 victory.
The good news for his backers is that he has won at the mark before, but the bad news is that he would have to make history again to successfully defend his crown: this would make him the heaviest winner since Red Rum back in 1974. Indeed, 19 of the last 20 victors have weighed between 10-00 and 11-06.
But as we’ve already discussed, if Many Clouds is to win the Grand National in 2016 he and Aspell will have to break new ground or at least emulate one of the greatest horses of all time. The cards aren’t dealt in his favour, but he appears to have the quality to wear the burden well.