You can become addicted to winning. And it might well be the case for Trevor Hemmings, the 84-year old who could become the most successful owner in Randox Health Grand National history this year. Hemmings reversed his decision to keep his silver gelding Vintage Clouds out of the April race in Aintree, after its unlucky fall in the 2019 edition. A fourth victory of one of Hemming’s equine champions is far from a sure bet among the Grand National offers for 2020, but it is also far from impossible. He already is the joint most successful trainer in Grand National history with three wins – Hedgehunter (2005), Ballabriggs (2011) and Many Clouds (2015)
Clearly, what tipped the scales in favour of giving Vintage Clouds another chance at the Grand National was his success on Jan. 18, when he ran out a winner of the Peter Marsh Chase at Haydock Park. That was a big boost for the whole team, including trainers Sue and Harvey Smith and jockey Danny Cook. They had all concluded, after Vinatge Clouds over-jumped the first and fell at Grand National 2019, and later had another negative experience at Becher Chase, that the grey simply “does not like Aintree”, and above all its peculiar fences. “Vintage Clouds has struggled slightly over the Aintree fences, notably in the Becher – but we want to keep our options on the table”, as explained by Sue, who trained 2013 Grand National winner Auroras Encore. The horse certainly seems to like Haydock more, as this is the third victory he grabs there, and the fourth for Danny Cook.
There is more to it than a subjective impression, though. In December 2019, Vintage Cloud had an even worse close encounter with the Aintree fences, during Becher Chase. Topping a series of bad jumping errors at earlier fences, the grey ploughed through the Chair and short afterwards he was pulled up by Cook. The jockey managed not to fall and even pushed his steed to face the next obstacle, the water jump, but then decided to give it up. That was when trevor Hemmings told Sue “don’t put him in” for the Grand National.
The whole team was still of the same mind, at first, after the Haydock Park victory. “We always thought he was a National horse, but he just doesn’t like it”, racing manager Mick Meagher commented then, “so we might go back to Cheltenham for the race he was second in last year (Ultima) and then maybe the Scottish National”. No dishonour there, as the Chair is a notoriously nasty obstacle, a non standard narrow fence with higher landing level than take off. And a Grand National has claimed the lives of many fallen horses. Actually, Vintage Clouds was lucky in 2019, unlike Up For Review that had to be put down after a bad fall at the same first fence. The day before, Ladies’ Day, had seen two more fatalk casualties, Crucial Role and Forest des Aigles, that both fell and were euthanized. Now Vintage Clouds has two more months to brace up for his third encounter with the racecourse he so much dislikes.