Back in 2013, Sue Smith joined an exclusive club as she added her name to the relatively prosaic list of Grand National-winning trainers. She also became just the third female trainer to land the world famous Steeplechase and the first Yorkshire-based handler since 1960 to enjoy success in the race. The 70-year-old is a savvy operator and she is unlikely to be satisfied with just a single Grand National winner. She will be hoping that Vintage Clouds can follow in the footsteps of Auroras Encore at the Merseyside track in April 2019.
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Sue Smith is a prominent figure in the north of England and she has a number of runners who compete regularly at tracks such as Newcastle, Sedgefield and Hexham. It’s not been the most productive twelve months for the Craiglands Farm handler with the yard sending out just six winning hurdlers this year, although her statistics often tend to improve as the jumps season heads towards its thrilling denouement.
Vintage Clouds is one of Sue Smith’s stable stars and the nine-year-old has become a dependable operator. Owned by Trevor Hemmings, the powerful chaser has suffered a number of near misses and was third in the Scottish Grand National in 2018. Despite edging right at the final fence, Vintage Clouds managed to finish just four lengths behind the Rebecca Curtis-trained Joe Farrell and appeared to relish the four-mile trip, which certainly bodes well for the energy-sapping steeplechase at Aintree on April 6th.
Feeling refreshed after a 217-day break, Vintage Clouds saw off a field of six in the Betfair Exchange Handicap Chase at Haydock in November 2018 and may also be required to overcome another lay-off ahead of the 2019 Randox Health Grand National. At the time of writing, no further entries are in place for the talented chaser, although Sue Smith has refused the rule out the possibility of another run ahead of the big day.
It will be Vintage Cloud’s third appearance at Aintree racecourse with the nine-year-old previously enjoying success in a Novice’s Limited Handicap at the end of 2017 when romping home 18 lengths clear of The Lovely Job under the guidance of regular partner, Danny Cook. He’d also previously been forced to finish the race prematurely when pulling up in the 2016 Sefton Novice’s Hurdle.
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He is currently priced at around 25/1 and has been popular in the ante-post betting over the last couple of months. There are a number of northern raiders who are prominent in the market and according to Oddschecker, they could stand to benefit from the uncertainty over Brexit. With the UK set to leave the European Union at the end of March, there is the possibility that some Irish trainers may not be able to send their stable stars to Merseyside this year. With very little sign of a resolution being reached, the likes of Gordon Elliott and Willie Mullins will have to remain patient ahead of the 2019 Randox Grand National, although some of their runners have already begun to drift in the market.
2018 winner Tiger Roll is one of a number of runners whose place in the contest remains in doubt and his price has lengthened amid the political turmoil engulfing the UK. Definitly Red is another confirmed absentee although his non-participation is down to Brian Ellison’s desire to run him in the Cheltenham Gold Cup instead.
Sue Smith’s grey didn’t make the cut last year and wasn’t able to compete in the prestigious race but he’s clearly advertised his credentials in recent months and although he was asked to make the running at Haydock, he appears to be very adaptable and can cope with a variety of underfoot conditions. He was able to pull out a little bit more when pressed by his rivals in November and that is the sign of a very effective stayer.
Auroras Encore’s participation in the 2013 Grand National was in doubt ahead of the race due to a bout of bad weather in Yorkshire, but connections decided to go ahead with the plans and the gamble sensationally paid off. He was able to run off just 10st 3lb following a string of disappointing displays and went off at a price of 66/1. Anyone who backed him for success that day took a significant leap of faith but they were handsomely rewarded as a result. Jockey Ryan Mania steered him home in front of a packed Grandstand and later told reporters that he couldn’t believe his luck. Despite being retired just a year later, Auroras Encore’s name will go down in history and Smith will be hoping that Vintage Clouds can follow a similar path.
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Unlike the 2013 winner, the 2019-hopeful won’t be entering the race under-the-radar and is likely to be shouldering a decent-sized weight in this year’s contest. However, the uncertainty over the participation of several Irish hopefuls will certainly help his chances. The race is always a highly unpredictable affair but Tiger Roll went off as one of the favourites in 2018 and the potential to go off at a short-price is unlikely to deter backers.
Having proved himself over four miles, Vintage Clouds undoubtedly has the stamina to cope with the various tribulations and his price is likely to shorten further ahead of the April contest. The nine-year-old has course form to his name and is likely to be well-rested ahead of this year’s energy-sapping steeplechase. Very few trainers are able to chalk up multiple successes in the Grand National during their career but Vintage Clouds could be the horse to help land Sue Smith a historic double.