Tragedy strikes Many Clouds following heroic final victory
Thistlecrack, the Gold Cup favourite, suffered the first defeat of his chasing career at Cheltenham yesterday, but the real drama of the Betbright Trial Cotswold Chase took place after the finishing line when the horse which beat him by a valiant head, the 2015 Grand National winner Many Clouds, collapsed and died.
Charismatic and long-serving chasers such as Many Clouds attract a huge following within the sport and Oliver Sherwood, his trainer, was not the only member of his profession, hardened by experience you would have thought, in shedding tears for the horse.
As a National winner, in 50 years' time, people will still be talking about having backed or watched him when he won at Aintree. That is some memorial for a horse.
We often talk glibly of racehorses giving their all and yesterday the 10-year-old did. Indeed, as Sherwood pointed out afterwards, lowering the colours of Thistlecrack may in time prove to have been his finest hour, finer even than his victory in the world's greatest steeplechase.
Holding back the tears, Sherwood said: "I always said he's one of those horses who would die for you and he died for me and the team doing the thing he loved most. By God, he wanted to win that race.
"He was beaten at the last and fought back in the last 50 yards to get up and win. It's sad for Trevor [Hemmings, the owner] and the team at Rhonehurst. I've been in the game 32 years now and horses like him don't come along very often."
He added: "We will all go one day, so you have to be philosophical about it and enjoy the good moments. The National, the Hennessy and that race today was almost a career-best performance. I want Thistlecrack to go and win the Gold Cup now and prove this wasn't a fluke."
Many Clouds has often suffered a 'wobble' after his races. Indeed, after his National win, he did not immediately return to the winner's enclosure as he was given oxygen.
But this was different. He walked round for a full minute at the top of the run-in after pulling up with his ears pricked and without the slightest sign of a problem.
However, just as jockey Leighton Aspell, who had given him as sympathetic ride in winning a hard race as was humanly possible, was about to be interviewed by Oli Bell for ITV, Many Clouds went down very quickly, most probably due to some sort of internal haemorrhage like the one that claimed three-time Gold Cup winner Best Mate at Exeter in 2005.
Thistlecrack remains favourite for the Timico Gold Cup, although he was pushed out to 7-4. If one was forensically critical, I would say his race lacked a little of the rhythm and dash he showed when winning the King George, although Tom Scudamore was happy enough with his jumping.
Maybe he had a harder race at Kempton than he let on, but when push came to shove, he was outstayed up the run-in by Many Clouds and he looked a tired horse on his return to unsaddle.
Colin Tizzard, his trainer, was both cheerfully philosophical and sporting in defeat. Speaking before Many Clouds's demise was announced, he said: "In the end, he was outstayed and well done to Many Clouds. We've almost come to expect it with this horse, a clear round and he wins. But that's racehorses, they all get beat. He ran a beautiful race and that might prove to be some of the best form we see this season. No excuses." Scudamore insisted they would still come back in March full of confidence.
Defi du Seuil and Un de Sceaux both justified odds-on favouritism in the JCB Triumph Trial and Spectra Cyber Security Solutions Clarence House Chase respectively.
The Cotswold Chase, however, threw a bit of a wet blanket over the rest of the day's action, which returned to script with another odds-on shot, Unowhatimeanharry, travelling very sweetly throughout the Galliardhomes.com Cleeve Hurdle to extend his unbeaten run for Harry Fry to eight wins.
When he did hit the front, he idled before beating Cole Harden by a length and three quarters. Unowhatimeanharry has the look of the heir apparent to Thistlecrack's old title and is now just 2-1 to win the stayers' hurdle. (Telegraph)