The Festival Trials Day at Cheltenham took place on Saturday 28th January 2017.
Many Clouds (Oliver Sherwood/Leighton Aspell, 8/1) caused an upset in the£100,000 G2 BetBright Trial Cotswold Chase when defeating 4/9 favourite Thistlecrack (Colin Tizzard/Tom Scudamore) most gamely by a head, rallying to regain the lead close home, with last year’s winner Smad Place (Alan King/Wayne Hutchinson, 7/1) another 17 lengths back in third.
It was the second victory by 10-year-old Many Clouds in the BetBright Trial Cotswold Chase, after success in 2015 and a second place behind Smad Place in 2016
Tragically, Many Clouds (pictured top), who won the 2015 Grand National at Aintree in a glittering career, collapsed and died shortly after passing the winning post, despite being attended by vets.
Speaking an hour after the race, trainer Oliver Sherwood said: “I’ve had to have a couple of real stiff drinks to relax myself. I have been in the training game for 34 years and today was both the best and worst scenario.
“I watched the race with Alan King (Smad Place’s trainer) and Many Clouds got back to win – I was on a high. My travelling head girl, Lisa, then rang me to say the horse was down. I knew the worst – I had a gut feeling.
“The only thing you can say is that Many Clouds has died doing what he loved – he loved jumping and he loved racing. I have always told everyone, he would die for you and he has gone and died for us, doing what he loved. It happens to us all, we all go at some point. He has gone out on a high.
“He had wobbled after races before and people queried why he raced on, but what do you do with a horse like that? I thought, hand on heart, having had a wind op that he might have been struggling for oxygen and hence the reason we did it. He was better on his first run back at Aintree this season (when successful).
“It was a war of attrition today against what Colin and Joe (Tizzard) and most of the public thought was an unbeatable horse. Clouds wanted it probably a bit more than Thistlecrack did, but has paid for it with his life.
“Horses like Many Clouds don’t grow on trees and it is going to be difficult to find a replacement. I have to enjoy the Hennessy and National wins and it was probably a career-best from him today.
“It is very sad for everyone – CJ (Chris Jerdin) who looks after him at home, Lisa my travelling head girl, Stefan, my head man and all the team at Rhonehurst. It is going to very tough having an empty box there tomorrow and on Monday.
“It was spine-chilling walking back down when it was announced and the whole crowd clapped. That finished me completely and I did lose it a bit then. Leighton Aspell is in bits and has gone home.
“Let’s enjoy the life of Many Clouds – he was a real wonder horse. He had guts and jumping ability – with that you will always win races.”
Nathan Horrocks, who rode Many Clouds in his work at home, commented: “It’s a shock. You go from shouting him home to win the race and 10 minutes later he is not with us anymore.
“It’s a massive loss to everybody because he wasn’t just of huge importance to the yard, he was of huge importance to Lambourn and the sport.
“Honestly, you can’t believe the amount of people that come up to us and say ‘I hope the horse is well and we are looking forward to him running’. He has really captured the nation.
“That is our sport unfortunately and it makes you love it and hate it at the same time. I saw Tom (Scudamore) coming back down the walkway and I said: ‘Hard luck, mate, Clouds has given you a race there’ and he was saying: ‘I couldn’t get past him, he is such a hard, hard horse’.
“That was what great about Many Clouds and that was his downfall as well because he just didn’t know when to quit.”
This was a first defeat over fences for Thistlecrack and his trainer Colin Tizzard said: “I am so sorry. We were beaten by a better horse on the day. Two lovely horses ran themselves to the line and poor old Many Clouds. Our initial thoughts that we got beat and it was a bit disappointing but this is as sad as can be. Many Clouds was a fantastic, lovely horse.
“Thistlecrack ran his race and we are not making any excuses whatsoever. Today, on winter ground, we were beaten by a better horse – there is no question about that. They went to battle and it’s just a tragic end to the race. It’s what happens in our sport occasionally and we have to face up to it.”
Noel Hayes, director of Sportsbook at sponsor BetBright, added: “After a truly brilliant and heroic performance from Many Clouds, racing has lost a wonderful horse and our thoughts go out to the connections.”
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Ian discovered Eclipse in the early days and has stuck with us ever since, providing terrific pictures of many major racing festivals and stable visits. You can see more of his work at www.eyewhy.co.uk