Midnight Shadow claimed the spoils in the Paddy Power Gold Cup at Cheltenham after last year’s winner Coole Cody fell at the second-last when leading the field.
Midnight Shadow was one of those in close pursuit and jumped the last in front – but he made a mistake there and was all out up the hill to hold the late challenge of Protektorat to land the prize for the Grand National-winning partnership of trainer Sue Smith and jockey Ryan Mania.
The eight-year-old was just three-quarters of a length in front at the line to strike at odds of 9-1. Protektorat (11-2 favourite) was half a length ahead of Lalor (7-1) in third, with Dostal Phil (16-1) a length back in fourth place.
There was a strong pace from the start, with Coole Cody getting into the lead once the field settled down. Simply The Betts was prominent in the early stages, as was Al Dancer while Midnight Shadow was fairly handy.
Paint The Dream took closer order as the tempo increased, but his challenged petered out. Coole Cody looked certain to take a hand in the finish, only to make a dramatic exit at the tricky penultimate obstacle.
Smith – whose finest hour came with Auroras Encore and Mania in the 2013 Aintree spectacular – said: “I probably get more emotional these days because I’m that much older!
“It’s special, it’s special for everyone because we’re only a small yard and northern trainers don’t get to do this very often, so it’s lovely.
“I’ve probably got about 45-50 in training, but they are not all Midnight Shadows! I probably had a few more in when we won the National, but these are once-in-a-lifetime horses, the same as Auroras Encore was – and he’s still in the field looking very well now.
“He was bought at Doncaster by Harvey (Smith) and he was bred by Mr Smith-Maxwell who actually runs the horse ambulance service here.”
Smith revealed an ambitions target for Midnight Shadow at Christmas.
She said: “I think the plan could be to go to Kempton for the big race – the King George.
“We’ve been thinking of stepping him up to three miles for some time so we may as well do it then, if you don’t try these things you don’t know. Eventually he will get three miles, I’m sure.
“You don’t often come across a horse like this, so it’s amazing to have him in our yard – he’s obviously the best horse in our yard.”