Many Clouds gives Leighton Aspell back-to-back Grand National wins

many clouds

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Many Clouds gives Leighton Aspell back-to-back Grand National wins” was written by Greg Wood at Aintree, for The Observer on Saturday 11th April 2015 17.35 UTC

Tony McCoy seems adamant that he will not reconsider his decision to retire but, for the second year running, the Grand National was won by a jockey who did just that. McCoy, who finished fifth on Shutthefrontdoor, was one of the first people to congratulate Leighton Aspell after his victory on the 25-1 chance Many Clouds, 12 months after the victorious jockey had won the race on another 25-1 shot, Pineau De Re.

Aspell spent two years out of the weighing room after losing his enthusiasm for race-riding in 2007, but his decision to return has proved to be inspired. He is the first rider since Brian Fletcher, who rode Red Rum in 1973 and 1974, to win the National two years running and the first since Bryan Marshall in 1953 and 1954 to do so on different horses.

All eyes, inevitably, were on McCoy as the field went around their first circuit and a half of Aintree and he kept the 6-1 favourite out of trouble and jumping well as a steady trickle of runners either fell or unseated their jockeys. The survivors were directed around the Canal Turn on the second circuit as Balthazar King, last year’s runner-up, received treatment after a fall first time around, and after The Druids Nephew, who was still going well, fell when leading at the fifth-last fence, Shutthefrontdoor was still travelling like a potential winner.

But so was Many Clouds, a horse with the class to win the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury in November, one of the toughest and most competitive races of the season, before lining up as one of the favourites for the Gold Cup at Cheltenham last month. His quality meant that he had 11st 9lb to carry, just 1lb below the top weight and the highest burden carried to victory since Red Rum’s success under the old top weight of 12 stone in 1974, but he had adapted swiftly to the challenge of the big fences, vindicating the decision of Oliver Sherwood, his trainer, and Trevor Hemmings, his owner, to send him to the race just four weeks after his run at Cheltenham.

Many Clouds was left in front by the fall of The Druids Nephew and Aspell needed no further invitation to set off for the line. He was giving half a stone to Shutthefrontdoor, but McCoy’s mount was struggling to raise a serious challenge before they had jumped the last. The most successful jockey in National Hunt history has often seemed to get horses home by force of will, but even he has his limits.

Instead it was another 25-1 chance, Saint Are, who emerged from the pursuers after the last and tried to chase down Many Clouds. He was gaining on the leader in the final furlong but never at a rate that gave him a real chance of catching the winner. Hemmings’s familiar green-and-yellow quartered colours passed the line in front for the third time in a Grand National, following the victories of Hedgehunter and Ballabriggs in 2005 and 2011, with one and three-quarter lengths to spare over Saint Are, with Monbeg Dude third at 40-1 and Alvarado back in fourth for the second year running.

“When Aidan [Coleman, on The Druids Nephew] fell, my horse just pricked his ears and had a breather for three or four furlongs,” Aspell said afterwards. “I would have liked a couple alongside me when we got to the Elbow [just over a furlong out] just to push him along a bit. It’s a lonely place there and you’re running into a funnel. He’s all heart though and has given every ounce he possibly could have.

“I remember watching this race in a field on a small TV after I retired a few years ago. I never thought I’d ever win it once, let alone twice. He’s a great friend of mine, this horse. Last year I had to work hard at various points in the race, and I had to do a light weight before the National so I was a tired man. Today I had a lovely smooth passage around.”

Aspell set out knowing that he was on one of the best horses in the race, but a lacklustre run in the Gold Cup, when Many Clouds finished sixth, sowed the only seeds of doubt in the minds of his jockey and trainer.

“He just disappointed us there a little bit,” Aspell said. “He’d been training and eating very well since and giving us all the right signals, it was just a nagging doubt in the back of my mind whether he would be in tip-top form.

“I asked him some big questions and he has dug really deep. I tried to conserve energy because he had a hard race in the Gold Cup and it’s a wonderful training performance by Oliver to freshen him up and recharge the batteries. He’s all heart and he gave me the best ride I have ever had over these fences. I was just hoping that the battery life would last.”

The Grand National is so intensely competitive that most National Hunt owners can only dream of winning it once. Hemmings, though, has now enjoyed as many victories as Noel Le Mare, the owner of Red Rum, but with three different horses.

“There’s a style of horse that I purchase,” Hemmings said, “but I’m buying a slightly different sort of horse now than I did 20 years ago. They’re a slightly smarter sort of horse than the originals, and that’s how racing and the National have changed.”

2015 Crabbie’s Grand National – where they finished:

1st Many Clouds 25/1

2nd Saint Are 25-1 – 1 3/4 Lengths

3rd Mondbeg Dude 40-1 – 6 Lengths

4th Alvarado 20-1 – 3 1/2 Lengths

5th Shutthefrontdoor 6-1Fav – 1 1/2 Lengths

6th Royale Knight 25-1 – 2 1/4 Lengths

7th Tranquil Sea 33-1 – 10 Lengths

8th Cause Of Causes 14-1 – 2 1/4 Lengths

9th Soll 9-1 – 14 Lengths

10th Chance Du Roy 40-1 – 10 Lengths

11th Mon Parrain 33-1 – 5 Lengths

12th Pineau De Re 25-1 – 1 1/2 Lengths

13th Owega Star 50-1 – 6 Lengths

14th Spring Heeled 25-1 – 25 Lengths

15th Oscar Time 20-1 – 2 1/2 Lengths

16th First Lieutenant 14-1 – 3 3/4 Lengths

17th Rocky Creek 8-1 – 5 Lengths

18th Night In Milan 20-1 – 2 1/2 Lengths

19th Dolatulo 66-1 – 3 1/4 Lengths

Non-finishers

Fence One: Al Co (unseated), Gas Line Boy (fell), Ely Brown (fell)

Fence Three: Rubi Light (unseated rider)

Fence Four: Corrin Wood (pulled up)

Fence Five: Unioniste (fell)

Fence Six: River Choice (fell)

Fence Eight: Balthazar King (fell), Ballycasey (brought down)

Fence 18: Court By Surprise (pulled up)

Fence 25: Lord Windermere (pulled up), Across The Bay (pulled up), Super Duty (pulled up)

Fence 26: Rebel Rebellion (pulled up), The Rainbow Hunter (fell), The Druids Nephew (fell)

Fence 28: Portrait King (fell)

Fence 29: Godsmejudge (pulled up), Wyck Hill (pulled up), Bob Ford (pulled up)

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Clare Balding calls for change to start of the Grand National 2013

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Clare Balding, who will anchor coverage of the Grand National at Aintree when it is televised by Channel 4 Racing for the first time next April, has entered the debate on the world’s most famous race by suggesting that any horses that cross the starting line too early should be forced to start at the back of the field.

Balding also believes that the distance of the National should be reduced by almost a furlong to allow the runners to start at the Melling Road, cutting the length of the headlong charge to the first fence.

“My feeling is that the start has been a massive problem for the last three years,” Balding said this week. “I’d move the start to the Melling Road, and anyone who goes over the start line early will have to go to the back of the grid, so there is a penalty straight away.

“That means they won’t all charge it and it will slow down the pace to the first fence, which has a knock-on effect.”

The British Horseracing Authority recently completed its official review of the 2012 Grand National, in which two horses – Synchronised, the Gold Cup winner, and According To Pete – suffered fatal injuries. The Authority’s board considered the final report earlier this week, and its findings and recommendations are due to be published within the next few days.

The review is expected to recommend new procedures at the start of the race, which has caused persistent problems in recent years. This year’s renewal was badly delayed, first when Synchronised unshipped Tony McCoy and ran loose for several minutes, and then by two false starts. The BHA subsequently suggested that all 40 jockeys in the National had been in breach of the rules over the start, but did not lay any charges.

However, the review is not expected to recommend any significant changes be made to the Grand National course or the famous fences.

Neither of the two fatalities in this year’s race occurred as the direct result of a fall, as Synchronised was injured while running loose and According To Pete was brought down by another horse at Becher’s Brook on the second circuit.

Balding believes that the fences should be left as they are. “I wouldn’t reduce the size of the fences any more,” she said. “If anything, I’d consider putting them back to where they were, without bringing back the drops [between take-off and landing where these have already been removed].”

Meanwhile, the BHA said that 42 of its raceday staff have been warned that they are at risk of redundancy following an operational review which has “identified two areas … where efficiencies could be achieved”.

Three separate teams of staff – stable yard integrity officers, veterinary technicians and weighing room integrity officers – will be replaced by the single role of the raceday integrity officers. As a result, the 42 employees currently carrying out these tasks are expected to be replaced by a new team representing a total of 26 full-time jobs.

“Having thoroughly considered and discussed these services and issues,” Paul Bittar, the BHA’s chief executive, said, “we have informed the respective teams that we propose to bring their roles together.

“This means that we have had to put three groups of staff at risk of redundancy with immediate effect. Over the coming weeks, we will consult with the union [Unite] and the staff about the new roles and consider any alternative suggestions that they have.

“A recruitment process will then take place to select the right people for the new roles for what will amount to the equivalent of 26 full-time positions.”

The primary responsibility of the new integrity officers will be to safeguard integrity and horse welfare in the racecourse stables, including identification checks and obtaining samples for dope testing.

Bittar said that the intention of the change is to “create a more flexible and efficient raceday service”. He added: “our objective was not simply to save costs, although providing cost-efficient regulatory service to British racing is one of our over-arching goals.”

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