Oliver Sherwood won his second Hennessy Gold Cup when Many Clouds out-battled both Houblon Des Obeaux and Merry King in a driving finish on Saturday at Newbury. Many doubted the horses stamina, yet it proved to be his major strength, along with a generous helping of class.
There can be little doubt that ground conditions played a part in the winner’s success. Of Many Clouds' seven career wins to date, six have come when soft or heavy have appeared in the ground description. The first three home in Saturday’s showpiece pulled well clear of the remainder, and approaching the last it was hard to predict the outcome. Many Clouds stayed on strongest of the three with joint top-weight Houblon Des Obeaux bravely battling on for second.
Winning connections celebrated in raucous fashion while jockey Leighton Aspell praised the team spirit in the Sherwood yard, saying: "We all put a lot of work in and it is good to get the opportunity to ride these big winners. It has been a wonderful year.”
Venetia Williams was rightly thrilled with her runner-up, she said: “"We're absolutely delighted and celebrated as if we'd won the race. He's only seven and at some point we will look to the Grand National, but we'll leave that until next season."
Race favourite Djakadam looked a non-stayer, while Smad Place failed to go with the leading trio and plugged on for fifth. It’s likely that he will improve for the run, and it’s worth remembering that Lord Windermere could only manage eighth in last year’s Hennessy before going on to Gold Cup glory.
For Oliver Sherwood and his team, they now have a live Gold Cup contender to look forward too. The stiff finish at Cheltenham looks ready-made for their horse, though his apparent dependency on a softer surface would be a concern. The Argento Chase in January should be a perfect ‘prep’ for Many Clouds and will likely give the stable a chance to test their hope against some of the very best in graded company.
Away from the main event, Newbury race fans eagerly anticipated the return of the World Hurdle winner More Of That. Sent off a short-priced favourite his fitness was put to the test by an aggressive front running performance from Cole Harden. Ultimately the favourite failed to last home on his comeback race in such searching conditions. Medinas for the in-form Alan King yard, benefitted from the front two taking each other on, and stormed to a comfortable victory. The winner was ridden intelligently by Richard Johnson, who sat some distance off the strong pace before getting into contention in the home straight. The win became part of a treble at Newbury for a jockey at the top of his game.
Certain to be slightly disappointed, Jonjo O'Neill was philosophical after the race when he said: "Running More Of That on heavy ground first time out probably wasn't the best idea in the world, but that still wasn't his true running. We'll have him checked over.” Chances are that his stable star will strip fitter next time out, and fans of the horse should not hit the panic button just yet.
At Newcastle champion trainer Paul Nicholls collected yet another big Saturday pot, when Irving defeated the talented mare Aurore D’Estruval in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle. The victory was notable for the winner’s slick jumping along with his acceleration from the last after travelling powerfully. Nicholls clearly believes in this horse and his potential as a Champion Hurdle contender. He said: “He improved for the last run and I still think there is a lot to come. He will be really interesting in the spring."
Irving’s win ensured the champion reached another stunning milestone. An exceptionally emotional Nicholls said: “I have been lucky enough to train 100 Grade 1 winners but if you have not got the team you can't do it. It reflects well on Team Ditcheat. I am thrilled for Paul Barber as much as anything as he is a great man and he believed in me."
The racing at Newcastle was also notable for the continued strong recent form of trainer Colin Tizzard. Hey Big Spender continued his love affair with Newcastle when winning his third Rehearsal Chase in three attempts. His stunning weight carrying performance formed part of a treble for the trainer on the day.