Things We Learned » Many Clouds hard to find

Many Clouds hard to find

Fair play to Trevor Hemmings and Oliver Sherwood and Leighton Aspell on Many Clouds’ famous victory in the Crabbie’s Grand National on Saturday, and fair play to you if you backed him. Because he was not easy to find.

Many Clouds was a trends-buster in just about every sense of the word(s). For starters, he carried 11st 9lb, more weight than any horse carried since the National legend Red Rum won the second of his three in 1974. That’s 41 years ago. More than Grittar, more than Corbiere, more than Don’t Push It, more than Neptune Collonges.

Secondly, he was and is an eight-year-old. Bindaree in 2002 was the last eight-year-old to win it before Saturday, and Bindaree was only the third eight-year-old since Red Rum won his first in 1973.

Thirdly, he was a Hennessy winner, and no Hennessy winner had ever won the Grand National before.

Fourthly, he wasn’t trained specifically for the Grand National. He wasn’t campaigned all season with the Grand National as his primary objective, he wasn’t campaigned over hurdles until the weights were published, he didn’t run in the Bobbyjo Chase or the Pertemps Final or the Haydock Grand National Trial, he didn’t run in last year’s Irish National or Scottish National or Thyestes Chase. He was trained for the Hennessy and the Cheltenham Gold Cup this season. The Grand National was an after-thought.

There were other factors to put you off as well. He did not look like an especially well-handicapped horse. He was racing off a mark on Saturday that was 16lb higher than the mark off which he made his debut this season. And while the compression of the weights thing allowed the handicapper give him a mark of 160 for Saturday’s race instead of the mark of 165 in which he basked when the weights were framed, the handicapper actually dropped him 3lb after his disappointing Gold Cup run, after the weights had been framed. That poor run was not taken into account when his Grand National weight was being determined.

Also, you got the feeling that trainer Oliver Sherwood really didn’t want to run him in the race. You get the feeling that it was Grand National stalwart, owner Trevor Hemmings, who wanted to run, and that the trainer went along with it.

On top of all that, Saturday’s ground should have been faster than ideal for the son of Cloudings. All his best form before Saturday was on soft ground. The main concern about him during the Cheltenham Festival preamble was that the ground would be too fast for him, which is why his poor run when the ground came up soft for the Gold Cup was so difficult to explain.

Inflated over-round

We have got used to inflated betting over-rounds for the Grand National, as bookmakers cash in on the ‘leisure’ punter – whoever he is – but, even by Grand National standards, the figure of 165% returned on Saturday was a new high. (Or low.)

The over-rounds for the previous five Grand Nationals were, respectively, 155%, 155%, 152%, 148% and 151% last year. The jump this year to 165% was significant. This is all fairly new too. In 1998 and 1999 the over-round was 133%.

Of course, bookmakers are entitled to make money on the biggest betting race of the year. However, the fact that a large proportion of the market is largely price insensitive should not be a green light for inflated pricing. You can argue that a sophisticated punter is on at ante post prices or morning prices, or has placed his or her bet on the exchanges. Morning prices were bet to an over-round of 112%. You can also argue that a once-a-year punter who backed Many Clouds and got paid at the SP of 25/1 is not going to argue that he or she did not get the morning price of 40/1. But that is not the point. There really should be an element of fairness. The once-a-year punter needs to be embraced and enticed back.

The argument that, as money came for some horses, there wasn’t time to push out the horses that were not attracting money, does not hold water. Nor does the one that the outsiders, the 66/1 shots, the 100/1 shots, could have been priced up at 200/1 or 500/1. If they should have been priced up at those odds, why weren’t they?

To put it into context, the SPs on the first five home were, respectively, 25/1, 25/1, 40/1, 20/1 and 6/1. The Betfair SPs were 34/1, 33/1, 42/1, 36/1 and 27/1. You can understand that there will be a discrepancy, there are other factors to take into account, but that discrepancy is too great.

It has been mooted that Shutthefrontdoor, returned at an SP of 6/1, was freely available at 9/1 in the betting ring at the off. So perhaps the issue lies with the method of returning SPs, not with the on-course bookmakers. Either way, this issue needs to be examined. The Starting Price Regulatory Committee is due to meet again in June, at which point it is expected that this issue will come up. Obviously they think it’s urgent then.

Next year’s Grand National

It is always worthwhile having a look at this year’s Grand National and seeing if there is a horse worth taking from it with a future Grand National in mind. In 2013 it was Soll, in 2014 it was Rocky Creek. Pity that they broke a blood vessel and lost a shoe respectively on Saturday.

This year, it was Shutthefrontdoor. JP McManus’ horse just raced a little more keenly than ideal through the early stages of Saturday’s race, you always felt that he was doing a little more than AP wanted him to do on the first circuit, yet he still travelled like the most likely winner of the race to the home turn. The fairy tale ending looked on. Alas, his early exertions probably took their toll and he faded, but he still kept on well enough to finish fifth.

This was just Shutthefrontdoor’s seventh ever chase, he was a novice last year, so he did remarkably well to go as close as he did. Also, circumstances dictated that he hadn’t raced after November before he lined up on Saturday, so it was understandable that he would have raced a little keenly early on.

Of course, regrettably, he will not have AP McCoy for company next year, but he will still be trained by Jonjo O’Neill. He is an Irish National winner who will be nine next year and who should, all things being equal, get to race off a similar handicap mark to Saturday’s. (He has actually been dropped 1lb to a mark of 152.) He is currently available at 33/1 for next year’s National, and he should be the first horse on your list.

Compression of the weights

So, it has happened that a horse who was carrying significantly less than the weight he should have been carrying has won the Grand National. Many Clouds was rated 165 when the Grand National weights were framed in February, yet he was allowed to race off a mark of 160.

You can see the argument for the compression of the weights, it encourages the classier horses to run, and isn’t that as it should be, given the value of the race? In one sense, it is. In another, isn’t that what the Gold Cup is for, and isn’t the Grand National advertised as a handicap?

Many Clouds carried 5lb less than he should have carried, and he got home by a length and three quarters from Saint Are, who raced off his correct rating. It would be understandable if, on Sunday morning, David Fox and Tom George and Paddy Brennan were thinking of what might have been.


Many Clouds’ victory brings into question the tried and tested Grand National stats, that the percentage call is to look for an older horse with a low weight. It may be a new race now, a four-mile-three-and-a-half-furlong race with fences that are significantly easier than they once were, so it deserves investigation.

There have been three renewals now under the new regime, all three run on good to soft ground, and here are the findings:

1. Two of the three winners and five of the nine placed horses were aged 10 or older.

2. Two of the three winners and eight of the nine placed horses were aged nine or older.

3. Two of the three winners and four of the nine placed horses carried 10st 7lb or less.

4. Two of the three winners and eight of the nine placed horses carried 10st 13lb or less.

Conclusion? A sample size of three is a small sample size, but you are still looking for an older horse who is set to carry a relatively low weight.

© The Irish Field, 18th April 2015