Many Clouds shows class is now key in Grand National

Oliver Sherwood’s afterthought entry succeeds despite heavy handicap

Big-picture themes usually dominate the fallout from the Grand National, whether in welfare terms or the whip or farcical starts, but any long-term implications of Many Clouds winning the famous old race on Saturday could be as straight-forward as the best horse having won: class did indeed win out.

Far from some grizzled veteran of the most famous fences in racing, Many Clouds is a steeplechaser at the peak of his career. Just a month before, he started second-favourite for the Cheltenham Gold Cup on the back of an unbeaten season that included a Hennessy victory in November.

That he ran below expectations in that Gold Cup meant trainer Oliver Sherwood needed his arm twisted by owner Trevor Hemmings to consider going for compensation in what is famously the most gruelling steeplechase test of all.

Far from an archetypal long-term plot years in the planning, Many Clouds tackled the National as a comparative after-thought, carried second topweight of 11.9 which meant he conceded weight to all bar Lord Windermere, and hadn't even been popped over a pretend Aintree fence beforehand.

The fact he started at 25/1 emphasises how the Grand National is not supposed to be won like this: except no one told the horse who carried Kildare jockey Leighton Aspell to a second successive National triumph with an aplomb that underlined Many Clouds’s quality.

It's not as if quality hasn't won out at Aintree before. L'Escargot was a dual-Gold Cup winner when he won 40 years ago. Hedgehunter, Rough Quest and Neptune Collonges were all placed in Gold Cups.

But in the light of all the fence modifications in recent years, it is tempting to put such an “after-thought” success in the context of how the modern National puts an accent on class in a way it didn’t in the past, with obvious implications for the quality of horse that could line up for it in future.

Heaviest weight

It will also be noted that the 11.9 Many Clouds carried to success is the heaviest weight carried by a winner since Red Rum humped 12st to victory in 1974.

Any overall future implications to be taken will only be enhanced by reports of how Many Clouds has emerged from the race “bucking and kicking”.

Immediately after the race there were less than pretty scenes of the hero of the hour having to be kept walking, with buckets of ice-cold water being flung over him to cool down. But the 2015 National looks to have thankfully been painless although last year's runner-up Balthazar King appears to have broken ribs after falling at the Canal Turn first-time around.

Sherwood hasn’t hesitated to confirm Many Clouds will be back to defend his crown in 2016 when the weight scale means he can only carry a maximum of 1lb more than he did on Saturday.

“I think he’s a Gold Cup horse that’s won a National,” he said. “He can only carry a pound more next year and we’ll probably train him for the National, as opposed to the Gold Cup.”

Such a statement in itself suggests an altered perspective on the world’s most famous race, one which Britain’s senior handicapper would relish.

"The most he can carry next year is a pound [more]. But you never know: there might be something better than him entered in the race next year," Phil Smith said. "It should be an encouragement to the owners and trainers of those better horses that it's not necessarily going to be weight that stops you."

Cause Of Causes fared best of the raiders in eighth but there never appeared a realistic chance of a first Irish-trained winner in eight years. Instead for much of the race there appeared every chance of Tony McCoy securing a fairytale end to his legendary career.

Shutthefrontdoor faded to fifth but McCoy said: “I’m going to miss riding horses like that in races like that. I got a great buzz out of it and I thought for a long way he could win. It was very enjoyable.”

Rarely has McCoy described finishing fifth in any race as enjoyable. But the National is hardly any race. And defeat means he gets to keep riding for another couple of weeks yet.

‘Very stable’

Meanwhile, jockey Robbie McNamara is said to be in “very good spirits” and is facing a period of recuperation after undergoing spinal surgery at Dublin’s Mater hospital on Saturday.

The 26-year-old jockey sustained serious chest, abdominal and spinal injuries in a fall at Wexford on Friday and he remains in the Mater’s high dependency unit after his weekend surgery.

McNamara, a first cousin of John Thomas McNamara who was paralysed from the neck down in a fall at Cheltenham two years ago, is also described as being “very stable”.

“He has serious chest injuries, serious abdominal injuries and serious spinal injuries. They’ve operated on his spinal injuries and that’s been stabilised,” said the Turf Club medical officer, Dr Adrian McGoldrick. “He is very stable and in very good spirits.”