Midnight Shadow recorded a third Graded success at Cheltenham when landing today’s Paddy Power Gold Cup under Ryan Mania. The eight year old led over the last and despite tiring during the run-in, kept on for a three-quarter length success over 11-2 favourite Protektorat.
The Sue Smith-trained gelding had previously won the Grade Two Relkeel Hurdle at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day in 2019 and the Grade Two Dipper Novices’ Chase on the same day in 2020.
Midnight Shadow’s victory was the first in 14 years for a horse trained in the north of England in the Paddy Power Gold Cup, following on from L’Antartique who triumphed for the late Ferdy Murphy back in 2007.
Successful trainer Sue Smith said: “It’s out of this world, we only had one horse to bring down here and he is a good horse - he’s always been a good horse – so he’s paid us back today. It was terrifying to watch! There aren’t many horses that could have done what he’s done at the last and I just thought ‘that’s it’ - but he just picked himself up and kept going.
“It’s magic. Nowadays it’s nice for us because you don’t often come across a horse like this and he’s a very special horse. I’m probably a bit more emotional because I’m that much older! It is special and it’s special for everyone because we’re only a small yard and the northern yards don’t get to do this very often, so it’s lovely.
“I’ve got 45-50 at the yard but they’re not all Midnight Shadows! These are once in a lifetime horses, the same as Auroras Encore was and that old boy is stood in a field is looking very well now. Harvey bought him at Doncaster Sales and he’s by Midnight Legend and I believe he was bred by Mr Smith-Maxwell, who has the horse ambulance here.
“He’s entered for the King George at Kempton and I’m going to see how he comes out of this first.”
Winning jockey Ryan Mania was enjoying one of his biggest days in the saddle since the Smith-trained Auroras Encore triumphed in the 2013 Grand National at 66-1.
Mania said: “He got a little bit lonely which he can do in his races if he is in front for too long and the lack of concentration maybe didn’t help. In fairness, he was never going to get beat as he is very game and I could feel the horses coming to me but he was never going to let them past.
“He is a very easy horse to ride in the race as he jumps and he travels so you can do what you want with him. He is a jockey’s dream and I’m very lucky to ride him. Everything went to plan and he barely missed a fence so I can’t complain.”
The jockey took the decision to retire from the saddle in November 2014 before making a comeback to the saddle five years later.
And he continued: “I’m sure it is emotional for most jockeys but it is especially emotional for me to have retired and come back and do all this for my family. To come down and ride these big winners is amazing.
“He ran a really good race last time out and the only negative was that it was three weeks ago and I thought he might have had a hard race in the Old Roan at Aintree, but he has come here and he has never felt any effects of that race, thank God.
“I was very positive and that is how I rode him and that is how he has gone and done it. There are no plans to retire I’ve got a good 10 years in me yet.”
Meanwhile, trainer Dan Skelton said of runner-up Protektorat: “It was a really good run and that race is just stressing me out. Coole Cody fell two out and it’s funny how circumstances are year to year, we were second in it last year and second in it this year.
“It was a good run off top weight and I’m very proud of him, he’s done well. There was a lot of chat about not running good horses in handicaps – there you go, he’s finished second. I haven’t gone the easy route and picked a conditions race and all that jazz and that’s why more don’t do that, because it’s hard. You’re the best horse in the race but you get beat.
“We’ll step him up in class and trip now and see from there. I may go to Ireland over Christmas, we’ll have a go at that sort of level and see how it goes.”
A further length and a half back in third was Lalor, who was making his first start for 12-times champion trainer Paul Nicholls after a switch of stables.
Nicholls said: “I’m thrilled with that run from Lalor. It is good to get him back running a solid race. He stayed on strongly, which I liked. He will almost certainly come back for the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup which is on the New Course, which will suit him a little bit more as there is more emphasis on stamina. Harry (Cobden) said he was nearly flat out all the way which would suggest he would want three miles in time.
“Seeing as he hasn’t finished a race for a long time he has showed what he has showed us at home. He will improve a tad for that. Harry said there is a nice race in him and he was thrilled with him. After he jumped the last he was flying.”
Nicholls also now trains Simply The Betts, who came home sixth.
The Ditcheat trainer added: “Simply The Betts ran a super race off top weight and he hadn’t run for a long time. He may well come back for the Caspian Caviar as well or we might do something else with him.
“He jumped and travelled and Bryony (Frost, jockey) was delighted with him. It was a big weight for him to carry around here but there is definitely a nice race for him and he will come on for the run.”