Oliver Sherwood has already won one big National Hunt handicap chase this season. Now he goes in search of another after confirming Many Clouds is an intended runner in the Grand National.
Sherwood prepared Many Clouds to deliver an impressive performance to win the Hennessy at Newbury back in November and his run immediately stamped him out as a future National contender.
However, Sherwood initially opted to send the eight-year-old down the Gold Cup route and that appeared to be a justifiable target after another solid win in the BetBright Cup Chase at Cheltenham on Festival Trials Day in January.
When it came to the Gold Cup, though, Many Clouds was a shade disappointing when sixth behind Coneygree after being sent off at 7/1. He was never truly able to get close to Coneygree and Sherwood acknowledged the horse was out of his comfort zone.
He has now decided to go for the National, after previously putting the race down as a back-up in case something went wrong in the Gold Cup. The uncertainty over whether Many Clouds would run at Aintree has seen his price fluctuate quite wildly in the Grand National betting as he has gone from a 20/1 shot, out to 40/1, and now back in to a general 25/1 price. But, if he is to justify connections’ decision to go for the race, then he will have to buck a few trends.
Many Clouds is currently second top weight on 11st 9lbs, and that could rise by 1lb if Lord Windermere doesn’t line up. The last horse to carry that burden was Red Rum when winning his second National in 1974 with a weight of 12st.
That was also the last time a jockey won back-to-back renewals of the National. Leighton Aspell has ridden Many Clouds in all 19 starts, and won the National 12 months ago on Pineau De Re. The last time a jockey won the National in successive years on different horses, though, was in the 1950s when Bryan Marshall won on Early Mist and then Royal Tan.
Many Clouds’ record at the Grand National meeting is also a concern as he has run at Aintree the last three years. He was 11th behind The New One in the 2012 Bumper, pulled up in the Silver Cross Handicap Hurdle in 2013 and then fourth to Holywell in the Mildmay Novices’ Chase last year. All of those runs were on good ground, and Many Clouds is a better horse with soft in the going description.
Yet, for all the negatives, there is still a persuasive case for Many Clouds giving owner Trevor Hemmings a third National win. He is a sound jumper, has a touch of class and stays well. And, in some ways, he could be reasonably weighted. It all depends on how much stock you put in the statistics and history.