Weekend Review: 30th January 2017
Cheltenham hosted quite possibly the best day of National Hunt racing so far this season, with racing fans able to celebrate a vastly talented collection of equine stars.
We witnessed some brilliant performances, with one of particular poignancy. Defi Du Seuil, Un De Sceaux, Wholestone and Unowhatimeanharry all justified favouritism and all four will head to the Festival with strong claims in their respective races.
In the lead up to the day, much of the discussion was how the King George winner, Thistlecrack, would fare in arguably his sternest test to date over fences.
Thistlecrack could only be denied in a thrilling contest by the rhythm and power in Many Cloud’s jumping; the bravery, determination and majesty in his will to win. Many Clouds would just not be beaten. He died, moments after, of a pulmonary hemorrhage. The courage he showed to win epitomised Many Clouds.
Every racing fan will have spared a thought for owner Trevor Hemmings, trainer Oliver Sherwood, his groom Chris ‘CJ’ Jerdin and, of course, all of those who spent time with, and looked after, Many Clouds.
The way that Oliver Sherwood came out and spoke so eloquently and fondly of Many Clouds on Racing UK and on ITV Racing after the race was also very poignant. At what must have been an extremely upsetting time, to be so selfless, holding his emotions together, speaking so well to the public underlines the class of a fine man and trainer. Here is hoping, on that Friday in March, that Thistlecrack bounds up to that famous hill in splendid isolation to pay the most handsome tribute to Many Clouds.
A little known fact is that one of the co-founders of Rewards4Racing - Josh Apiafi, is also a regular work rider for Oliver Sherwood in Lambourn. He’s also been one of the cherished few to have ridden work on Many Clouds. We spoke with him yesterday to gain his thoughts on what must have been a really tough weekend, plus what it was like to ride the champ.
“I love the racing game so much, which only means the lows can be measured in equal proportion to the massive highs. I wasn't at Cheltenham on Saturday as I was best man at a friend’s wedding and, ten minutes before the speeches, I was crying my eyes out. Strangely, that’s also the beauty of our wonderful sport, the 'ying and yang', I suppose.
Riding Clouds was the ultimate high; I can only explain it as the equivalent of sitting in an F1 car, but with a more comfortable seat! On most days, he was ridden by one of my best friends, Nathan Horrocks, but occasionally I had the pleasure of riding him. He was a very good looking gentle giant, whose stride seemed to eat up any gallop or fence in front of him. He was so gentle that even my 8 year old daughter sat on his back in his stable one day.
To put into context what he meant to everyone at Rhonehurst, he was like Gareth Bale was to the Welsh National team in the Euros. We have a good squad of 60 horses but your eye was always drawn to where Clouds was in the string. All the other yards in Lambourn that rode past each morning would ask after Clouds. He had that superstar swagger as he strode through the village. He’ll never be replaced but neither will the amazing memories of his Hennessy and Grand National victories that lifted not only the yard, but the whole village.
After 25 years in the sport, you learn to 'toughen up' when it comes to horses, but what happened on Saturday hit my weak spot. If Clouds could have seen me crying that day, he’d have given me a nibble, straightened my tie and said ‘kick on son’.”