It is all systems go for Many Clouds in his bid to win the Crabbies Grand National at Aintree for the second year in a row for Preston North End owner Trevor Hemmings.
Connections are delighted with the horse’s build-up, but have warned that the nine-year-old – so impressive when winning at Kelso earlier in the month in his final outing before Aintree – faces a more difficult task than he encountered 12 months ago.
Michael Meagher, racing manager to Hemmings, said: “There is a lot of quality in this year’s race and it is a harder race. Many Clouds has a pound more to carry this year, but it is a six or seven pounds tougher race.
“The same as any National, you need things to go right on the day – the main thing is the horse is fit and healthy.
“We are very happy with Many Clouds at the minute. We were delighted with the run up at Kelso.
“The year has gone pretty well – he has run four races and run as we expected him to do. He is in good form and we could not be happier with him.”
Since Aintree in 2015, Many Clouds was unplaced at Wetherby, before two meritorious efforts over Aintree’s Mildmay fences and at Newbury.
This was followed by a scintillating display at Kelso, which showed that the gelding, trained by Oliver Sherwood, was in great heart.
Meagher added: “He showed that he was well in himself at Kelso and jumped in marvellous style, beating a couple of good yardsticks, so you would have to be pleased with that.”
Looking back further on his campaign, Meagher said that Many Clouds’ run down the field in the Charlie Chase at Wetherby was no disgrace in light of future events.
He said: “That run was not as bad as some people might say.
“He was trying to give the winner Cue Card 10 pounds – and look what that horse went on to achieve later in the season. Many Clouds was not fully wound up that day, and he needed the run.
“On the day, we were satisfied enough and we were not disappointed.
“He ran a cracker at Aintree in November, giving weight to Don Poli and that horse went on to be third in the Cheltenham Gold Cup – he also ran really well behind Smad Place at Newbury.”
As last year, Many Clouds will be partnered by Leighton Aspell, who will bid to earn a place in the record books by becoming the first jockey in history to win three consecutive Nationals, having won it on Pineau De Re in 2014.
Aspell could not have been more pleased with Many Clouds’ Aintree preparatory run at Kelso.
“It was great to feel the enthusiasm that the horse has.
“Oliver Sherwood has been freshening him up, but the next week and the following week he will be doing something more serious to make sure that he is spot on for the big day. He is really tip-top.”
This year’s big race has been described by official handicapper Phil Smith as the best Grand National ever.
This is evidenced by the fact that the class of the race has gone up so much that six of the winners since 1999 would not have got into this season’s renewal, which takes place a fortnight on Saturday.
The class horse of the race is Silviniaco Conti, who has a pound less that Many Clouds on 11st 8lb.
But Aspell has reservations about whether the former King George winner will last the National distance.
He said: “Silviniaco Conti brings some quality to the race, but you have a question mark about him staying the National trip.
“He gets three miles, but going nearly one-and-half-miles further will really test his stamina.”