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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Grand National Outsiders Tips, Bet Each Way Chance

We look at outsiders tips for the Grand National that we recommend that you should bet each way.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThere’s been a fair bit of Grand National coverage in this slot. Here you can read about what makes it so brilliant, while here is a bit about the surprisingly awful record of grey horses (not recommended reading for those of you who think the colour of a horse’s pelt is a subject undeserving of your attention). Last year, I wrote about some of the high-profile horses who have fallen at the first fence and gave some key stats.

Here’s a quick update on those stats. Don’t Push It had won over fences against 16 rivals before his National success, so 17 of the past 19 National winners have proven ability to cope with big fields (12 rivals or more). Paul Nicholls ran four more horses without success in last year’s race, taking his record to a most surprising 0/48.

Don’t Push It had also won beyond three miles, like the previous 20 winners, but he was carrying 11st 5lb, the most by any National winner since 1982. The last time a winner had more than that was 1977, when Red Rum carried 11st 8lb to his third success. It remains the case that no seven-year-old has won the National since 1940.

There are a few horses in Saturday’s race who may be thought to be up against it, judging by these stats, none more so than Quolibet. A seven-year-old, his only success (as recorded by the Racing Post) was over two miles and six furlongs and came against only eight rivals. He has fallen in three of his past six starts and was pulled up on his only run in Britain. Surely odds of 150-1 are very short indeed for such a runner.

I note that, among the market leaders, What A Friend has never beaten more than 10 rivals over fences while Quinz is a seven-year-old.

But I set no store by the Paul Nicholls stat, which is more of a curiosity than any kind of guide to what may happen in future Nationals. He campaigns his horses openly, which means they are not always well weighted when the big handicaps come along, but he will surely win it one day, especially if he keeps running three or four talented beasts each year.

By this stage, we all have fairly clear ideas about which horses we fancy to win. But it is worth taking the time to go through the final field, challenging your assumptions about each horse and asking yourself how surprising it would be, really, if it were to win.

If you find yourself newly impressed by the claims of a runner you had previously counted out, that may well be significant. You want to consider it now, rather than waiting until they’re running down to second Becher’s to find yourself thinking: “Actually, that thing has a real chance here …”

After all, your long-term views about the race are likely to centre on the market leaders, who have had this as their known target for months. There are other runners in the field whose claims have been wholly ignored by the media, horses who are sailing merrily along beneath the radar, preparing to drop a bomb on unsuspecting punters.

There are bound to be races that leave you baffled, wondering how on earth the winner has run so much better than his previous form. I never want to have that feeling after a National and to that end I have kicked around the chances of each outsider to see if, in fact, he should be among the more fancied runners.

Here’s the five at odds of 33-1 or bigger that I found most interesting.

1) Majestic Concorde 25/1 With Ladbrokes

I could see why this horse was available at 33-1 last weekend when connections were giving the impression that they might opt out of the race with this classy eight-year-old. Now that they have made their decision and he is a definite runner, I find it very surprising that a horse with such a sexy profile remains at those odds, though he is shortening with some firms.

There is no doubt about his basic speed, as he remains competitive at a high level on the Flat, being beaten just a length when fourth in the Chester Cup last May. Last summer he was third in the Galway Plate over a distance short of three miles on good ground.

Those efforts would make you worry about his stamina for four and a half miles but his latest run went a long way towards convincing me he is a Grand National type, when he won a 28-runner handicap chase over three miles on heavy going at Leopardstown’s Christmas meeting. He stayed on well that day, having hit the front at the fourth-last.

Yes, he has 11st 5lb, which is as much as any National winner since 1977, and he’s also younger than most winners of the race. But the going will be no worse than good to soft, it seems, meaning that his class should count and he has every chance of staying the trip.

He’s had only seven runs over fences, three of which were in the past two years, so there is the potential for that to let him down, but he appears now to be a capable jumper.

2) Grand Slam Hero 100/1 With Ladbrokes

So long as the ground isn’t watered tonight to the point where it becomes taxing, I see this 100-1 shot having some sort of chance. The winner of five of his 17 chases (and six of his 10 starts for Nigel Twiston-Davies), he is by no means a plodder and beat 15 rivals in Market Rasen’s Summer Plate last July. He won again at Ffos Las in August and is only 5lb higher in the handicap than he was that day, on a nice racing weight of 10st 7lb.

There have been hiccups, including on his recent return to Ffos Las, when he was pulled up. But that was his first start for five months and the yard were out of sorts at the time but have since returned to something like the form they were showing in the autumn.

He also managed to fall at the first in the Galway Plate and I know that even some of those close to the yard have doubts about his ability to jump round the National course. They do not, however, include the trainer, who told me the other day that the horse is a good jumper.

Well, we’ll see. He would, of course, have to put it all together in order to be competitive on Saturday but that is not beyond this talented handicapper who goes well on a decent surface. He is far from the most likely winner but he should not be counted out.

3) In Compliance 66/1 with Ladbrokes

A bit like Silver Birch, this could be a winner to which people will respond by going: “Ohhhh. He used to be really good, didn’t he?”

In Compliance is actually a Grade One winner, having won the John Durkan at the end of 2006, when he was six. Alas, injury problems restricted him to two runs, both defeats, in the next three years.

He was finally moved into handicaps last spring, running sixth in both the Byrne Group Plate at the Cheltenham Festival and in the Topham over the National fences. Both those efforts may be seen as encouraging in the context of this race if you believe that what he wanted was further than three miles.

After a gap of seven months, he returned in January and has put up four good efforts this year, all over two and a half miles or shorter. He actually managed to win at Thurles, when the going was heavy and he was wearing blinkers for the first time.

Dessie Hughes has left those off this time because, as he told me: “He’ll need to see.” He’ll wear cheekpieces, which he has worn twice before, unseating once and then finishing third over a short trip on fast ground.

He’s had such a low strike-rate in recent years that any kind of poor run would be no surprise at all. But he seems to retain enough of his ability to get involved if he turns up in good nick and takes to the race. He’s 66-1 but is also joint-fourth in Timeform’s ratings for the race.

4) Comply Or Die 50/1 With Ladbrokes

Speaking of low strike-rates, Comply Or Die has not won since the 2008 Grand National, when he beat King Johns Castle by four lengths. This is not completely surprising. He went flying up the ratings for that effort and he would hardly be the first horse to be uninspired by normal courses after running well around Aintree.

He was second to Mon Mome in the 2009 race under 11st 6lb, an excellent effort, but was stuffed in 12th place last year with one pound less to carry. That sort of decline would not normally be followed by a return to form.

But he has only 10st 8lb to carry this time, a manageable burden for the first time since he won the race. His form this season is hardly exciting but he showed enough at Warwick in January, when he led to the third-last, to suggest that he can still get involved when things fall right for him.

It’s hard to see him winning again but he’s 50-1 and that seems too big for a horse who has shown himself so suited to this test. It is not beyond him to get placed again.

5) Surface To Air 66/1 with Ladbrokes

You rarely get offered 66-1 about a horse who has won three of his past four races. The explanation is that Surface To Air has spent almost three years on the sidelines with injury since those wins, the most recent of which came in Uttoxeter’s Summer National in June 2008.

He finally made his comeback in a hurdle race at Market Rasen last month, when he finished tailed off. It was a disappointing effort, even for a prep run.

But if Chris Bealby has managed to get him to peak fitness, this 10-year-old has the ability to get involved off a rating only 8lb higher than the one from which he achieved his latest win. Backing him requires a total leap of faith on the issues of his fitness and how much ability he retains but my feeling is that 80-1 overstates the problems facing him.

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