Nine months on from that fateful day at Cheltenham, memories of the lion-hearted Many Clouds are still as fresh given he was the perfect example of everything a National Hunt horse should be.
Gritty, tenacious and an excellent jumper with plenty of class, he was taken to the hearts of the racing public and was never more admired than before he tragically exited jump racing’s stage.
Dethroning Thistlecrack by a tiny margin following that one’s King George VI Chase romp on Festival Trials Day at Cheltenham, it was a momentous effort that earned Many Clouds the accolade of being the season’s top rated staying chaser.
Albeit cruelly cut short, it would be a fitting tribute to the 2015 Grand National winner if the runner-up could surge to Gold Cup glory this time around.
“I would quite like to see Thistlecrack win it,” said Many Clouds’ trainer Oliver Sherwood.
“That would show our horse was more than a Grand National winner- and he could have possibly been a Gold Cup winner.
“The whole thing has been very humbling, losing Many Clouds- I have been blown away by people’s reactions. Unless you have a Frankel they get attached to these National Hunt horses as they are around much longer.
“A horse like Clouds gave 110 per cent and they loved that- the fighting quality.
“If I could find a horse half as good as him I would be happy.”
Of course, the handsome Graded chaser will be impossible to replace for as long as Sherwood, a trainer since 1984, is churning out the winners.
Without the established brigade, which includes Graded-placed Deputy Dan, it will be a challenge but the yard is quietly ticking along nursing likely types.
Using the patient approach that yielded so much from Many Clouds, novice hurdlers and bumper runners numbering in the twenties will be readied for the racecourse.
In the handicap ranks, there is plenty of potential in this corner of Lambourn too, where the next generation will thrive.
Five to follow from Oliver Sherwood:
Seventh in the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle at The Festival behind Apple’s Jade, she was most unlucky not to go close at Cheltenham’s April Meeting.
Squeezing up the rail before the final hurdle, her path was blocked but she recovered from the bump to rally for fourth.
The Home of Jump Racing hadn’t been keen to JP McManus’ £260,000 purchase from the Goffs UK Spring Sale previously, as she also fell at the last when leading in a Listed event.
“She was very unlucky on her last run,” said Sherwood.
“She didn’t run a bad race at The Festival either- if there was a three mile mares’ race at The Festival that would be where we would go.
“I think she’s more of a staying mare. She came back from Martinstown looking fantastic and has summered very well.
“I’ve not had a chance to speak to Frank Berry yet but there’s four obvious races- and to start with I’m looking at a mares’ handicap at Wincanton at the beginning of November (2m 5f).
“Then there’s a Listed race at Kempton three weeks later.”
A lightly-raced staying chaser rated 128, the seven-year-old mare has run well when fresh for the past two seasons.
Useful for Tim Syder who has had some quality horses at Rhonehurst over the years, decent Saturday contests are on the radar for this winner of a Class Three handicap chase at Kempton.
She is expected to follow in Many Clouds’ footsteps by relishing the unique demands of Aintree’s spruce fences.
“She’s a real feisty mare and loves soft ground,” said Sherwood.
“It’s at the back of my mind to get a run into her and then tackle the Becher Chase. Leighton (Aspell) thinks she will jump around Aintree no problem.
“She needs a gap between her races but has performed well first time out- and ran a cracker at Ascot last season.
“She’s very tough, loves her work, schooling and is one of those horses that will give her all.”
The Fresh Prince
Owned by Trevor Hemmings, this son of the late sire Robin Des Pres is a possible improver this term.
With experience over fences already on his CV, the seven-year-old looks set for a good campaign.
A prominent racer, the January Uttoxeter winner should be ready at the end of October, after missing some work this week due to a foot abscess.
“I have looked after him and it could be his big year,” said Sherwood.
“These classic Irish chasers have to be given time and they will repay you.
“The Fresh Prince is quite a big horse and we couldn’t go to the well too early.
“He came from the point-to-point field and jumps fences really well.
“I think there’s a decent Saturday chase in him.”
Comfortably won two novice hurdles before taking her chance in the Grade Two EBF & TBA Mares' "National Hunt" Novices' Hurdle Finale at Newbury in March.
Left in the lead three hurdles from home, she soon weakened but Sherwood feels it was not a bad effort in the circumstances.
“She wants proper winter ground and it was almost good ground,” he said.
“I can’t wait to see her go over fences. She has schooled over the baby ones and the mares’ contests look tailor made for her.
“She’s already won at Cheltenham (April 2016) and is a proper soft ground horse. I’d say she’s a bit like a bigger version of Blameitalonmyroots and as a great big strong mare, she has come in looking too well.
“We have got to put the work in to get all the weight off.
“She missed ten days with a poisoned tooth about a month ago which had to come out. That wasn’t ideal but it had to be done. She’s about a month off a run and subject to weather conditions, we will probably give her a run over hurdles first.”
Book Of Gold
Just the two runs in bumpers behind him, he is such a strapping individual that on looks he could tackle fences now.
Sourced unbroken, he was set to start his career earlier but went lame with a stress fracture which confined him to his box for weeks.
“He was second to a good horse of Dan Skelton’s at a big price on debut and was then a decent fourth at Kempton,” said Sherwood.
“He’ll start over two and a half miles and he would jump a fence at this point.
“We have done plenty of work with him and in time he’ll step up to three miles.
“He’s just a horse I really like.”