Auroras Encore, representing trainer Sue Smith, defied the odds to land the 2013 Aintree Grand National and was the last winner of the race to represent Yorkshire.
The county has seen a number of participants fall short in the intervening period, with none of them managing to follow in the footsteps of the Irish-bred bay gelding.
Smith, who is based at Bingley Moor, is aiming for her second success in the iconic steeplechase this year, and Vintage Clouds looks to be the 71-year old’s best hope in the contest.
🏇 🥇 #OnThisDay in 2013…
Auroras Encore won the #GrandNational at 66/1
That’s what its all about! pic.twitter.com/PqDuS0yQII
— The Sportsman (@TheSportsman) April 6, 2017
The trainer is a household name on the northern racing scene, and enjoys regular winners at tracks such as Carlisle, Wetherby and Doncaster. As of March 10th, she boasts a 15% strike rate with her chasers this season. Vintage Clouds is arguably her highest profile runner currently in training, and the Trevor Hemmings-owned nine-year-old advertised his Grand National credentials with a victory in a handicap chase at Haydock on his seasonal reappearance back in November 2018.
Sue Smith believes that her chaser is “ready to go”, and despite pulling up in the Welsh National at the end of December, he is prominent in the ante-post betting market. Danny Cook opted to pull the nine-year-old up four fences out, after a blunder at the 16th fence, but the ground may have been too soft at Chepstow on that occasion. The previous course winner is expected to relish the opportunity to return to the Merseyside course, and won’t be fazed by the taxing obstacles.
Vintage Clouds didn’t make the cut in last year’s Randox Health Grand National, with the big grey heading to the Scottish Grand National instead, eventually finishing third behind Joe Farrell.
Danny Cook is confident that his mount will be lining up in the forty-strong field for April’s steeplechase, with the jockey helping school the chaser over Grand National fences at Malton in 2018.
Trevor Hemmings is considering Haydock Park’s Peter Marsh Handicap Chase as Vintage Clouds’ next target ahead of a potential tilt at the @RandoxHealth Grand National. Read more ➡️ https://t.co/nxBG6P27J5 pic.twitter.com/YNVM2aRW2Q
— Haydock Park Races (@haydockraces) January 11, 2019
The weights were released in mid-February, with Vintage Clouds allotted 10st 10lbs by the handicapper, and he will require a few runners to drop out in order to guarantee his place in the contest. With over 100 runners entered for the world-famous steeplechase, connections are confident that last year’s reserve will be amongst the starters on April 6th.
The ante-market is likely to alter significantly post-Cheltenham Festival, and many trainers are likely to be keeping their eye on the weather forecast before making a commitment. The announcement of the weights has also triggered several market movements over the last couple of weeks, with the likes of Minella Rocco and Give Me a Copper, who is amongst the latest Grand National 2019 tips, has attracted plenty of money from value-seeking punters.
Vintage Clouds will have plenty of competition in this year’s renewal with last years hero Tiger Roll expected to return to the track. Top-weight Bristol de Mai is a classy chaser, who was victorious in the Betfair Chase back in November 2018, whilst Anibale Fly, who placed in last year’s contest, and is down in the weights.
If Sue Smith can mastermind another victory in the Randox Health Grand National, it will be a huge coup for Yorkshire, and another feather in the cap of the astute handler. The grey is likely to put in another typically stoic and determined performance and should give a good account of himself once again over the testing Aintree fences.