Twenty four years after training Arctic Call to win the 1990 Hennessy Gold Cup Oliver Sherwood finally won Newbury’s historic handicap chase for a second time when Crabbies Grand National-winning jockey Leighton Aspell drove Many Clouds home after taking up the running jumping the last to thunderous cheers from his connections, beating the gallant Venetia Williams-trained joint top weight Houblon Des Obeaux and Merry King who was attempting to give Champion Jockey Tony McCoy his first victory in the race.
After winning the stamina-sapping three mile two and a half furong contest run on soft ground the lightly-raced seven-year-old was given a top quote of 20-1 with Boylesports, Betvictor and Betfair Sportsbook for the Cheltenham Gold Cup next March, a race which could be the next port of call for the son of Cloudings, of which Sherwood said: “He’s in the Lexus but that’ll be too soon, and I wouldn’t mind if he didn’t run again until the Gold Cup. After such a great win I wouldn’t worry if he didn’t run again this season.”
The 50-1 runner-up could also be Gold Cup bound, but only in the unlikely event of heavy ground prevailing at the Festival, while Jonjo O’Neill’s Merry King is likely to have all of the top staying handicap chases on his agenda for the rest of the season. Although finishing eighth, second last of those who completed, connections of 5-1 favourite Djakadam were far from disappointed, with owner Rich Ricci saying: “He jumped really well and just got tired. He made a mistake two out and just emptied. He looked great but he’ll come on a ton for the run.”
While the mount of Ruby Walsh can be expected to improve for the run the five-year-old hardly looked to possess the necessary stamina of a potential Gold Cup horse and the Ryanair could be a more realistic target for which Boylesports quote a top price of 33-1. The strongly fancied Fingal Bay simply didn’t jump well enough and dropped out tamely before being pulled up but fifth placed Smad Place should not be written off and may still develop into a Gold Cup horse as the grey will come on for the run and will appreciate the likely better ground come March. Alan King’s horse can be backed at 33-1 with Paddy Power, Stan James and William Hill for the race and let’s not forget that Lord Windermere could manage only eighth place in last year’s Hennessy before going on to Cheltenham glory.
Of the remainder The Druids Nephew ran well once again and is surely capable of landing a decent prize before the season ends while Paul Nicholls’ main Grand National hope Rocky Creek proved a big disappointment, never travelling at any stage unlike fourth home Monbeg Dude who ” couldn’t have run better ” according to trainer Michael Scudamore and looks sure to develop into a leading Grand National contender for which this year’s seventh is a general 33-1 chance.