peter marsh hero on course for second grand national tilt as resurgent smith begins the year in style
By Mark Souster
Fortunes change rapidly in racing but class is permanent and the past few weeks have seen a remarkable return to form for Sue Smith, one of the north’s leading Jumps trainers.
It’s hard to believe but until December she had not had a winner for eight months. For Smith - having been in the sport for 30 years and appreciating its vagaries - she knew her luck would change.
And how it has. This month she has sent out five winners in 17 runners - a 29% strike rate. The golden run began with a happy New Year’s Day success at Cheltenham when Midnight Shadow took the plaudits and the main prize in the Dipper, a Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham.
Then Vintage Clouds came up trumps at Haydock Park in the Peter Marsh, and earlier this week owner Trevor Hemmings performed a U-turn and entered him for the Randox Health Grand National, a race that Hemmings has won three times and is dear to his heart.
“Things have gone all right haven’t they?” says Smith from her base in Bingley, West Yorkshire, which she shares with famous former show jumper Harvey, her husband of 40 years.
“In fact they have been going really well. The horses are coming into themselves. We had a slow start, so changed a few things, altered the feed, and it has all come good.”
For some, Midnight Shadow, a former Scottish Champion Hurdle winner, was fortuitous at Cheltenham. Champ, the favourite, fell two out when threatening.
But whatever one's take, the seven-year-old who is partnered by jockey Danny Cook has the opportunity to prove it was not a fluke on Saturday in the Betway Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase at Sandown Park. In time Smith believes he could prove to be a top class chaser.
“All being well he will go to The Festival in March for the Novices’ Chase. He actually loves it round Cheltenham. He is one horse you can take there. He has got a big engine and everywhere he goes he is King Kong, That is the way he thinks of himself!
“Eventually this horse will get three miles,” she explains. “If all goes well and everything stays right with the horse he could definitely be a Gold Cup contender in time. It is cracking to have a horse like him.
“Harvey bought him at Doncaster sales. He is a lovely model of a horse. From day one he has been a race horse. He won his bumper as a three year old at Newcastle, over hurdles he has gone on from strength to strength and now he has got into the fences. It’s smashing.”
Just as “smashing” is the prospect of Vintage Clouds heading back for the National at Aintree, where he fell at the first fence last year. After being pulled up in the Becher Chase, also at Aintree, in December the likelihood of him going back over the most famous of fences was remote.
Asked about Hemmings’ change of heart, Smith says: “When Vintage Clouds did his thing in the Becher, Trevor said we wouldn’t ask him to go around there again. Then he has probably thought, ‘I’m getting on in years. Blow it. We might as well have a go!’
“Trevor is an absolute Grand National fanatic – he simply loves it. He has won it three times and he would love to win it again. Any chance he gets to put a horse in he will.”
Smith, who saddled Aurora’s Encore to victory in the 2013 National, continues: “We are going to try again because he wants the horse in there. We can appreciate the reasons for Trevor wanting him to be in.
“In the Becher he jumped into the middle of the Chair then pulled up, and last April he over-jumped the first. He jumped it a bit like a show jump and that’s what caught him on the landing side and he just knuckled.
”When he won around Haydock a fortnight ago he got himself back to his winning ways and jumping ways. We are going to be giving him plenty of jumping without going silly and schooling appropriately.”
Whatever the outcome one thing is for certain. Sue Smith and Danny Cook are back in business.