Grand National: Many Clouds steals limelight from AP McCoy
Aintree has delivered a 'new' Grand National, but it was won by an old-school team of comeback kings.
Many Clouds, a 25-1 shot, triumphed despite being written off by many pundits after a heavy Cheltenham Gold Cup defeat last month and a below-par gallop just days before victory.
Jockey Leighton Aspell quit the saddle eight years ago, but a break sparked new-found enthusiasm and he became the first jockey for more than 40 years to win consecutive runnings, having triumphed on Pineau De Re last year.
|The top six|
|1. Many Clouds 25-1 (Leighton Aspell) 2. Saint Are 40-1 (Paddy Brennan) 3. Monbeg Dude 40-1 (Liam Treadwell) 4. Alvarado 20-1 (Paul Moloney) 5. Shutthefrontdoor 6-1 f (AP McCoy) 6. Royale Knight 25-1 (Brendan Powell).|
Popular trainer Oliver Sherwood is back in the big time after bouncing back from a spell in the doldrums, and Trevor Hemmings is the first owner for more than a century to win the famous Aintree contest with three different horses.
It was not the dream farewell for feted champion jockey AP McCoy, who was fifth on Shutthefrontdoor, though it gives racing another fortnight to salute the record-breaking 20-time champion jump jockey. And him more time to get used to the idea.
For now at least, it appears that the Grand National itself retains its drama, but without some of the danger which threatened the race's future.
The horse that 'should not' have run
After Many Clouds was a well-beaten sixth behind winner Coneygree when third favourite in last month's Cheltenham Gold Cup, it seemed the National might well be off the agenda.
An eight-year-old horse had not scored in the Aintree marathon since Bindaree 13 years earlier and Sherwood thought it best to wait 12 months, but both jockey and owner believed the time was right to strike, and they were proved correct.
In the 168th running of the famous steeplechase, Many Clouds became the first horse to win two of National Hunt racing's great contests - the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury and the National.
"Many Clouds is a gentle giant. He would go over a cliff for you," said Sherwood, who is based in Lambourn, Berkshire.
"I still don't know what happened in the Gold Cup. We were disappointed. I think he just got out of bed on the wrong side that day."
Trainer in tears
Sherwood is the older brother of Simon, the jockey who enjoyed so many big wins with the late, great galloping grey Desert Orchid.
Oliver's training career hit the skids during a prolonged lean spell where the one-time top amateur jockey, whose riding career included a jaunt in the National, saw winners begin to dry up and stable numbers dwindle. The family home was also badly damaged by fire.
Many Clouds has helped to seal a slow-burning revival which climaxed with the trainer's first National win at the fifth attempt.
|Races: 20. Wins: 9. 2nd: 5. 3rd: 0. Career prize money: £797,700.|
"I'm in cloud cuckoo land," said the 60-year-old, having earlier welled up as the celebrations began.
It was Many Clouds cuckoo land. The horse even went out for an encore after the final race of the day, passing the winning post a second time as he was paraded before the stands.
Ride on time
Aspell switched from one Grand National winner to ride another - the 38-year-old missing the chance of partnering the 2014 champion again so he could maintain his partnership with Many Clouds.
The father-of-three quit the sport in July 2007 but missed the camaraderie of the weighing room and the thrill of race riding.
He came back rejuvenated and Saturday's win - ahead of runner-up Saint Are, Monbeg Dude in third and fourth-placed Alvarado - made him the first jockey to win back-to-back runnings since Brian Fletcher with Red Rum in 1973 and 1974.
"Taking a break helped me get a new-found enthusiasm," he told me.
"Many Clouds is all heart and gave me the best ride I have ever had over these fences."
Hat-trick for Hemmings
Trevor Hemmings may be 79 but he's enjoyed a new lease of life over the last 10 years through the race he adores.
Many Clouds provided a third victory for his green, yellow and white silks following Ballabriggs (2011) and Hedgehunter (2005).
Hemmings has a share of Preston North End football club and used to own Blackpool Tower, but if he was a stick of rock, he would have Aintree written through the middle.
"This race captured my heart and it is such a lovely feeling to win it again," he said.
"Now the third one comes along, I just can't believe it. It's an amazing feeling."
Final furlong for McCoy
Bookmakers said they were braced for a £50m loss should McCoy win on the well-backed favourite, and while he travelled well for a good while, he had to settle for fifth place on Shutthefrontdoor.
"I briefly spoke to AP afterwards and he was full of congratulations like he always has been. He's as good a loser as he is a winner," said Aspell.
|An audience with AP McCoy|
|Watch Friday's BBC Radio 5 live special on iPlayer|
"If he'd have won he'd have brought the house down. I think the only people who are glad he's beaten were me and (Sandown Racecourse's) Andrew Cooper. It will be a wonderful send-off at Sandown."
That's on 25 April, when the man with more than 4,300 career victories will ride competitively for the last time.
"I am going to miss riding horses like that in races like this. I really thought for a long way that he could win. It was my last Grand National and a very enjoyable one," said McCoy.
"I just want to say well done to Leighton Aspell, Oliver Sherwood and Trevor Hemmings. It is great for them."
A new dawn for Aintree
Significant changes have taken place at the Merseyside track since two horses died in both the 2011 and 2012 contest.
The race has been made slightly shorter, watering takes place to ensure ground is a little softer if needed and the harsh wooden cores of fences, which are topped by spruce, replaced by a more forgiving plastic.
There have been no fatalities in the last three runnings, although last year's runner-up Balthazar King was being assessed at an equine hospital after a bad fall at the Canal Turn.
Race organisers have sought to attract high-class horses - a better standard of jumper, if you like.
Aintree chief John Baker said: "To have Many Clouds, a Hennessy Gold Cup winner earlier on in the season, win the race is testament to what we've been trying to achieve.
"He's a high-quality winner and one of the best performances we've seen in a long time to carry that weight (11st 9lb) to victory."
So good in fact that official handicapper Phil Smith said it was the best since legendary triple winner Red Rum in the 1970s.
It was different in Rummy's day, but the new, safer National has helped ensure its enduring appeal remains.