Things We Learned » Mourning Many Clouds

Mourning Many Clouds

It is desperate to lose any horse, and it hits even harder when it is a horse like Many Clouds.  The risk, the possibility that these things will happen, is generally accepted as being a part of racing, just like the risk of career- and life-changing injury to riders is generally accepted by riders as being a part of racing.  Everybody knows the risks, but having that knowledge doesn’t mean that it is any easier to deal with these things when they happen.

Many Clouds was a remarkable racehorse.  He pushed the boundaries.  He confounded many statistics when he won the Grand National in 2015.  He was the first horse aged younger than nine to win the race in 13 years.  He was also the first horse to carry more than 11st 8lb to victory in the race since Aintree legend Red Rum won the second of his three under 12 stone in 1974.

Also, Many Clouds was the first horse ever to win the Hennessy Gold Cup and the Aintree Grand National in the same season.  No horse had ever done that before in the 56 years since the Hennessy was first run. 

And he wasn’t trained specifically for the Grand National in 2015.  Oliver Sherwood did not conceal Trevor Hemmings’ horse’s light under a bushel for the season, he didn’t race him over hurdles until the weights came out, he didn’t hide his progression from the handicapper. 

Many Clouds won the Hennessy and he won the Cotswold Chase and he even had a go in the Gold Cup before he lined up at Aintree.  All of which meant that he raced off a handicap mark in the Grand National that was 9lb higher than the mark off which he won the Hennessy.  And he still won it.

Even after he won the National, the Cloudings gelding continued to confound the statisticians.  No National winner since Bindaree had won a steeplechase after he had won the National, and Bindaree won just one race afterwards, the Welsh National, 20 months after he had won the Grand National, after he had dropped back down to a handicap rating that was just 2lb higher than the mark off which he had won at Aintree.

The 2014 National winner Pineau De Re did win again, but he won a hurdle race, a Pertemps Qualifier, off a hurdles rating that was 7lb lower than his National winning mark.

Many Clouds was different.  He won a listed chase at Kelso in March last season, then he came out this season and won the listed chase at Aintree in December in which he lost out to Don Poli last season.  Then he won his second Cotswold Chase on Saturday.

The sad irony is that he probably put up the best performance of his life on Saturday.  In beating Gold Cup favourite Thistlecrack by a head off level weights, he earned a Timeform rating of 169, his highest Timeform rating ever and 3lb higher than the rating he was awarded when he won the National. 

He would have been a legitimate Gold Cup contender this year as well as everything else.  He was cut down in his prime.

Thistlecrack probably ran a career-best 

Strange thing, but Thistlecrack probably stepped up on anything that he had done before over fences in finishing second behind Many Clouds on Saturday, despite the fact that bookmakers extended his odds for the Gold Cup on the back of his defeat.

Easy in hindsight of course, but you can argue that Colin Tizzard’s horse should not have been odds-on for the Gold Cup before Saturday’s race: a novice who had raced just four times over fences, never against more than four rivals, back at the track at which he had put up the least impressive performance of his chasing career.

His jumping was less than perfect again on Saturday on his return to Cheltenham.  He didn’t make any significant mistakes as such, with the possible exception of his peck on the landing side of the third last fence on the first circuit, which wasn’t really his fault.  He just wasn’t fluent.

Compare his jumping with that of those horses who raced around him, with Many Clouds, with Smad Place, with Silviniaco Conti.  He simply didn’t flow. 

The notion that he didn’t stay has been dismissed by many – he is a Stayers’ Hurdle winner after all, and the clue to that race apparently is in the (newly re-instated) title.  But it is still possible that Thistlecrack didn’t stay on Saturday.  Or at least that he didn’t stay as well as Many Clouds.

He did hit the front on the run-in, so if he saw the trip out fully on the ground, he really should have got home from there.  He will probably have better ground in the Gold Cup, but he will also have an extra furlong to travel, and he will have a less forgiving pace.  Remember, One Man won a Hennessy and two King Georges, but he failed twice in the Gold Cup through lack of stamina.

Also, Thistlecrack will have to cope with a greater number of rivals, he will probably have to jump well enough among horses, among seasoned pros, to hold his position.  He still only had six rivals on Saturday.  He will have more in six weeks’ time and, now that his aura of invincibility is gone, he will probably have more than he might have had.

You can argue that Thistlecrack is getting closer to his true odds for the Gold Cup now, that the 7/4 is a more accurate reflection of his chance than the 4/5 that was on offer before Saturday.  But you can also argue that even the 7/4 that is available about him is shorter than it should be.

Lots to like about Melon

Melon was all the rage before he made his debut for Willie Mullins in the maiden hurdle at Leapardstown on Sunday, and he was even more the rage (all the rager?) afterwards, such was the proficiency of his performance.

There was a lot to like about Joe Donnelly’s horse’s performance.  He travelled really well, he nipped up nimbly on the inside of Broken Soul in an astute reactive move by Ruby Walsh when that rival made a mistake at the second last flight, and he put the race to bed fairly quickly. 

Importantly, Melon’s jumping was very good for a debutant.  The more experienced Broken Soul set out to make it a proper test too, Melon had to jump at speed pretty much from flagfall, and he didn’t miss a beat until the final flight, when he had the race in the bag, at which he was just a bit guessy.

Also, he ran all the way to the line, he ran through the line.  It wasn’t until the second flight past the stands that Ruby Walsh was able to pull him up, and that suggests that he had plenty of energy left.

Broken Soul put up an admirable performance in defeat.  Gordon Elliott’s horse also jumped well, with the exception of that mistake at the second last, and, although he was well beaten by the winner, he finished well clear of the third horse Prince Charmin’.  Also, it took Jack Kennedy a little while to pull him up too.  The first two home ran well past the line. 

Broken Soul has had plenty of experience, but this was just his second run over hurdles, and he should improve for it.

It is easy to understand why Melon is now a short-priced favourite for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, hailing, as he does, from the Willie Mullins yard that has supplied three of the last four winners and two of the last four runners-up in the race.  He does have some Supreme Novices’ Hurdle stats to overcome, but he is still well on the way towards living up to his reputation.  And it might pay to keep Broken Soul in the back of your mind too.  The Gigginstown House horse should win his maiden now without too much fuss before going on to bigger things.

Fine return by Uxizandre

You can argue that Uxizandre should not be more than twice Un De Sceaux’s price for the Ryanair Chase now. 

It is correct that Un De Sceaux is favourite for the race, Willie Mullins’ horse is top class, he is now a sextuple Grade 1 winner, he is 7lb superior to Uxizandre on official ratings, and he sets the standard in the race to which his rivals must aspire.  However, Uxizandre should still probably be closer to him in the betting than he is.

JP McManus’ horse has five lengths to make up on Willie Mullins’ horse on their running in the Clarence House Chase at Cheltenham on Saturday, but there are reasons for believing that he can at least close the gap.

For starters, that was Uxizandre’s first run in 22 months, his first run since he won the Ryanair Chase in 2015, whereas Un De Sceaux had already won the Tingle Creek Chase this season.

Also, while Un De Sceaux has won over two miles and five and a half furlongs in France, you can argue that two miles on that soft ground is close to his optimum.  The races in which he has put up his three best performances now on the figures – Saturday’s win, his win last season in the Clarence House Chase, and his win in the Irish Arkle in 2015 – were all over two miles on soft ground.

By contrast, Uxizandre put up the best performance of his life in the Ryanair Chase two years ago.  The Ryanair course and distance, two miles and five furlongs on good ground on Cheltenham’s New Course, is obviously close to optimum for him.

One other consideration.  Uxizandre did not wear headgear on Saturday.  He wore cheekpieces for the first time over fences when he almost sprang a 33/1 shock in the JLT Chase at Cheltenham in 2014, and he wore them again when he won the Grade 1 Manifesto Chase at Aintree and the Shloer Chase at Cheltenham. 

Interestingly, he wore a visor for the first time when he won the Ryanair Chase two years ago. 

It is probable that Alan King will fit headgear again at the Cheltenham Festival, and it is more than possible that they will elicit further improvement.  The Alan King-trained horse should probably be shorter than 8/1 now for the Ryanair Chase.

Thought for the week

Last weekend was a good one for the Suttons, with Sutton Place looking impressive on his seasonal debut in landing the Grade 3 Limestone Lad Hurdle at Naas on Saturday, and his half-brother Sutton United coming from non-league obscurity to beat Leeds at home in the fourth round of the FA Cup on Sunday.

© The Irish Field, 4th February 2017