After taking a bashing over the four days of the Cheltenham Festival it appears that one of the main horses the bookies really fear as we build up to the “the world’s greatest steeplechase”, the Crabbie’s Grand National at Aintree on April 9, is last year’s winner Many Clouds .
You have to go all the way back to 1974 to find a horse that won the Merseyside marathon twice and that was, of course, Ginger McCain’s Red Rum, the greatest Grand National performer of all-time. Having won in 1973 off a featherweight he carried top weight of 12 stones to victory a year later before finishing a gallant runner-up in both 1975 and ’76. His stunning success at the advanced age of 12 in 1977 is rightly considered one of the greatest ever sporting achievements.
It’s asking a lot of Oliver Sherwood’s Many Clouds to be the first since Red Rum to win the race for the second year in a row, but he was very impressive when scoring under Leighton Aspell last year and is one of the very few horses in modern times to have recovered sufficiently from the massive exertion needed to win the National and appear equally as good the following season.
Many Clouds Wins 2015 Crabbie’s Grand National
Already this term the nine-year-old has run a fine second to Don Poli (who received 5lbs) at Aintree on the Mildmay course in December. The winner’s great effort at Cheltenham in the Gold Cup, where he finished third to Don Cossack, makes that form look particularly solid.
After his December run Many Clouds conceded 4lbs and finished runner-up to the Hennessy Gold Cup hero Smad Place in the Grade 2 Cotswold Chase at Cheltenham in January, then romped to victory at Kelso in the listed Premier Chase on March 13, jumping like a stag on the way to defeating the useful Unioniste by an effortless 10 lengths.
Having seen the clearest of evidence that Sherwood’s stable star appears every bit as good this year as last, bookies are now running scared and generally offer no better than 9/1 about the Trevor Hemmings-owned stayer winning the £1 million Aintree feature event for a second time. If he stays in good health and reaches the starting line without any scares, he could start one of the shortest priced favorites in a generation, with something less than 6/1 not unrealistic about him winning the grueling 40-runner contest.
Granted luck-in running, and despite the steadier of top weight of 11st 10lbs (under which some judges insist he is actually well handicapped relative to his form on regular courses), Many Clouds has one of the best chances for decades of joining the exclusive club that counts Red Rum  as its most recent member.
Red Rum, The Rise of a Hero:
Many Clouds Faces Strong Competition
Paul Nicholls’ Silviniaco Conti is one of the classiest horses in the race and despite having won no less than seven Grade 1 races in his career is set to receive 2lbs from Many Clouds who has never won at the very highest level of the sport. The Grand National, by the way, is a Grade 3 handicap.
Silviniaco Conti is not quite as good as he was at his peak 18 months ago, but was still far too good for top opposition when slamming the smart Dynaste by no less than 20 lengths in the Grade 1 Betfair Ascot Chase in February. If he takes to the unique spruce fences at Aintree he could run very well and is generally offered at around 12/1 to land another massive prize.
If he recovers sufficiently from his exertions in the Cheltenham Gold Cup on March 18, then Willie Mullins‘ Don Poli would be a very exciting contender at Aintree. His third to fellow Irish stars Don Cossack and Djakadam was a commendable effort and there is a sneaky feeling that he will stay further and handle the hurly-burly of the Grand National, for which he can currently be backed at up to 25/1.
Other horses worth a brief mention include Kim Bailey’s The Last Samuri (14/1), winner of two hot handicap chases at Kempton and Doncaster already this season and regarded by his likeable trainer as just the right type for the National. It’s hard to believe it is already 26 years since Bailey last won the big race with the front-running Mr Frisk back in 1990.
Jonjo O’Neill, who saddled Don’t Push It to win the National six years ago under Sir Tony McCoy, must have been thrilled with the run of his Holywell, who stayed on strongly to finish runner-up in the Ultima Handicap Chase at the recent Cheltenham Festival. That appeared to be the perfect preparation for Aintree and this classy stayer has an attractive weight of just 10st 12lbs, so at 16/1 is one who very much catches the eye.
Finally, a few longshots worthy of at least a little consideration. If it comes up very soft underfoot then Ireland’s Carlingford Lough (25/1) would have a major chance after finishing fourth in the Cheltenham Gold Cup on faster ground than he likes; the 2011 Cheltenham Gold Cup hero Long Run would be very interesting off just 10st 8lbs if he is passed fit to take his chance and at 50/1 could be a tempting each-way play; while Jimmy Moffatt’s Highland Lodge, winner of the Becher Chase over the National fences in December is another fascinating contender at 50/1 and would more than likely give supporters a good run for their money.
 telegraph.co.uk, Grand National 2015 Winner Many Clouds, 2015
 wikipedia.org, Red Rum, 2016