Many Clouds is on course to try and become the first horse since Red Rum to win back-to-back Grand Nationals after passing his final preparation run at Kelso with flying colours when scoring by 10 lengths.
Since winning the world’s most famous steeplechase last April at odds of 25/1, Many Clouds has only seen a racecourse on three occasions. He returned to Aintree in December for his seasonal reappearance where he did very little wrong in a Listed race and chased home Gold Cup runner Don Poli in a four-runner contest.
Many Clouds stepped up in class for the Grade Two Cotswold Chase on Trials Day at Cheltenham where again he only found one rival to be too good for him on the day, with the Hennessy Gold Cup winner Smad Place winning emphatically.
Trainer Oliver Sherwood was keen to have one last run into him before the Grand National and he opted to make the trip up to Kelso which proved to be a fruitful journey as he won by 10 lengths, despite easing up in the run in. That means Many Clouds is now at 9/1 with bookmakers 32Red in their market for the 2016 Grand National.
Roll back to April 2015 and one of Many Clouds’ chief rivals for the National, Silviniaco Conti, was preparing for another shot at the blue riband event of the Cheltenham Festival, the Gold Cup. He went off at 3/1 with 32Red for that race but finished a disappointing seventh place and 27 lengths behind winner Coneygree.
The Paul Nicholls trained 10-year-old was given a chance to shine again in the 3m division in the Betfair Chase at Haydock and the King George on Boxing Day at Kempton, where he was second in Lancashire and pulled up in the latter.
A win has since followed in the Ascot Chase over the slightly shorter trip of 2m5f but connections weren’t tempted by any races at the Cheltenham Festival this year as they prefer to run him at Aintree as fresh as he can be for the Grand National.
Nicholls has only once won the race as a trainer and that came with Neptune Collonges in 2012. Neptune Collonges also had to carry more than 11 stone on his back, just like Silviniaco Conti will have to if he is to come out on top.
Connections of the two-time King George winner will be buoyed by Many Clouds’ victory in the race in 2015 as he won off 11-09. Silviniaco Conti will have one pound less than last year’s victor so, despite the stats being against him, Sherwood’s runner proved it is not too much of an obstacle if the horse is good enough.
Jonjo O’Neill, who trained the Grand National winner in 2010 with Don’t Push It, is bidding for his second success in the race with Holywell, who finished second in the Ultima Handicap Chase during the Festival. The nine-year-old, who once ran in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, returned to form to finish in the placings where he found only Un Temps Pour Tout better on the day.
Holywell is 16/1 with Boylesports to win the Grand National at his first attempt. The chaser has never run over 4m or more but connections are confident he will see out the trip at Aintree.
O’Neill will also saddle Shutthefrontdoor in the 4m4f contest. Owned by JP McManus, the nine-year old finished fifth 12 months ago with the retiring Tony McCoy and will be back for a second appearance in the race.
Shutthefrontdoor has had just the two runs so far this season. He finished third at Aintree in November in the Pertemps Network Handicap Hurdle (series qualifier), while he was pulled up by jockey Barry Geraghty in the Greatwood Gold Cup at Newbury before the 12th fence as he was struggling in the contest.
After that disappointing run at Newbury, Shutthefrontdoor can now be backed at 20/1 with the bookmakers to win the 2016 Grand National.