SUE SMITH says her leading Randox Health Grand National contender Vintage Clouds is “ready to roll” after it emerged that her stable star is almost certain to make the big race line-up next month.
Previously 61st in the handicap, just five horses now need to be withdrawn for the Trevor Hemmings-owned grey to make the cut at Aintree – the National field is capped at 40 runners.
It follows a number of high-profile withdrawals at the latest forfeit stage, including Colin Tizzard’s Welsh National winner Elegant Escape.
And while Smith’s staying steeplechaser is one of five horses on a rating of 144, handicapper Martin Greenwood says he will take into account the fine run of Vintage Clouds at Cheltenham last week when second in the Ultima Handicap Chase just ahead of Lake View Lad, who is due to be ridden in the National by Middleham’s Henry Brooke.
Both developments left Smith feeling relieved after Vintage Clouds missed the National last year by one place.
The High Eldwick trainer, who famously saddled Auroras Encore to win the Aintree marathon in 2013 with her husband Harvey, told The Yorkshire Post: “He should get a run which is very good news.
Everyone thinks he is a slogger, but I think he needs better ground because it helps him travel through his races. If he gets round, he will be placed.Jockey Danny Cook
“He’s in very good form and he’s come out of the Cheltenham race really well. I’m very pleased with him – but he also appears to be very pleased with himself. We are easing him back into his work. He is very fit and ready to roll.”
The 81 remaining runners are headed by defending champion and clear favourite Tiger Roll, bidding to become the first dual winner since Red Rum, and top weight Bristol De Mai who was third in last week’s Gold Cup.
If Bristol De Mai, a proven Grade One winner, lines up in the National instead of the Grade One Betway Bowl 48 hours previously, it will leave Vintage Clouds with just 10st to carry.
And while regular rider Danny Cook is one of the taller jump jockeys, he does not anticipate any problems making the minimum weight for the April 6 race which is again worth £1m.
In anticipation that Bristol De Mai, who has been allotted 11st 10lb, will line up in the National, Cook has been gradually losing weight over recent weeks so he is in peak fitness for the four-and-a-quarter mile marathon.
“I’ve only two or three pounds to lose between now and then. I’m not having to crash diet,” he said. “I was really pleased with him (Vintage Clouds) at Cheltenham.
“He has come out of his race very well which I am even more pleased about.
“Everyone thinks he is a slogger, but I think he needs better ground because it helps him travel through his races. If he gets round, he will be placed.”
Already guaranteed a run is Blaklion, a recent acquisition for Catterick trainer Phil Kirby.
Fourth in 2017, the horse – now owned by Darren and Annaley Yates – is 13th in the handicap and jockey Sean Quinlan will have 10st 12lb to carry.
Yet, while Blaklion needs to return to the form which saw him win the 2017 Becher Chase over the National fences, it is defending champion Tiger Roll (11st 1lb) – victorious in Cheltenham’s cross country race last week – and the lightly-weighted Vintage Clouds that continue to catch the eye of the aforementioned Greenwood, who is enjoying his first National as senior handicapper.
“Tiger Roll never came off the bridle at Cheltenham and it was an incredibly impressive performance. His claims for a second National look very strong,” said Greenwood.
“Looking further down the weights, I thought Vintage Clouds and Lake View Lad both ran excellent races.
“As things stand, Vintage Clouds needs five horses above him to come out to get a run. There are currently five horses on a rating of 144, but three of those have already dropped in the ratings which will work in Vintage Clouds’s favour.”
The next National eliminations are due on April 1, with the final field confirmed three days later and just 48 hours before the most famous steeplechase in the world.