Grand National: Many happy returns as Aspell wins

Many Clouds leads from AP McCoy on Shutthefrontdoor on his way to Grand National glory yesterday. Picture: Getty
Many Clouds leads from AP McCoy on Shutthefrontdoor on his way to Grand National glory yesterday. Picture: Getty
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The 2015 Grand National failed to follow the fairytale script, but will go down in history nevertheless. As dreams of a grand finale for AP McCoy on Shutthefrontdoor floundered in fifth place, another remarkable story, as befits the world’s greatest steeplechase, took its place.

Not since Brian Fletcher on Red Rum in the 1970s had a jockey won back-to-back Nationals, and not since Bryan Marshall in 1953/4 had one won two years running on different horses.

Yesterday, Leighton Aspell, who triumphed on Pineau De Re in 2014, joined that elite band when he steered the 25-1 shot, Many Clouds, trained by Oliver Sherwood and owned by Trevor Hemmings – winning the race for the third time – to victory by just over a length from Saint Are at a sun-drenched Aintree.

Aspell was never too far off the pace and Many Clouds, winner of the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury earlier in the season and sixth in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, jumped with aplomb throughout. For a long way it appeared Shutthefrontdoor could provide McCoy with a fairytale second National triumph before his retirement later this month, but he eventually weakened into fifth place. Many Clouds also tired from the Elbow, but had enough in the tank to hold off Saint Are, with Monbeg Dude third and Alvarado fourth.

Aspell quit as a jockey in a heat-of-the-moment decision in 2007, saying he had lost his passion for racing after a tough season, but returned 18 months later because he missed the weighing-room camaraderie and the thrill of the sport. It has proved to be the right decision.

He said yesterday: “Last year, I was shell-shocked and I had to work hard. This year, I had a smooth ride. It was wonderful and we will certainly celebrate tonight. I asked some big questions, but he dug deep.

“If you look back now, it was a crazy decision to retire. But it has given me new-found enthusiasm.”

Many Clouds, described as “wobbly” after the race, was taken away to cool down, but quickly recovered. Sherwood, the shocked trainer, said: “I can’t believe it. I didn’t see my horse come back in, so I was a bit worried, but I gather he was just a bit wobbly and he’s OK.

“Jumping the last I couldn’t watch. I feel sorry for the the poor people beside me – I lost it completely.

“It was some spin from Leighton – to win it two years on the bounce is just unreal. I still don’t know what happened to Many Clouds in the Gold Cup. He definitely didn’t run his race. I’ve done nothing with this horse since Cheltenham. He hasn’t seen a National fence. I didn’t think it was the right thing to do. He’s done two quiet bits of work and that’s all I’ve done with him.

“Luckily this year there was an extra week from Cheltenham to Aintree, which has made a huge difference. I’m going to really enjoy this one – I’m in cloud cuckoo land!”

Sherwood had had second thoughts about entering Many Clouds for the Grand National after his disappointing Cheltenham run, but owner Hemmings persuaded him otherwise. The win was a third in the National for Hemmings after Hedgehunter (2005) and Ballabriggs (2011). Only three other owners have achieved that feat – and none in the past 100 years.

Hemmings said: “Seriously, it was incredible. You come to the National and you dream that you will win it. When a third comes along, that is something special. It is a wonderful, wonderful feeling.

“For years and years this race has captured my heart. What a wonderful feeling, you can’t express it. Thank you Oliver Sherwood, thank you Leighton and all the staff, and, of course, Aintree.”

McCoy, who had intended to hang up his riding boots on the spot had he won on Shutthefrontdoor, was magnaminous in defeat.

“I just want to say well done to Leighton Aspell and Oliver Sherwood and Trevor Hemmings. It’s great for them.

“I was very happy all the way, but just between the fourth and the third-last I was following Many Clouds and I knew he was a dour stayer.

“I was behind him in the Hennessy and thought I might get past him then, but he stuck at it well there. I thought from the third-last I was struggling.

“I’m going to miss riding horses like that and in races like that. I got a great buzz out of it and I thought for a long way he could win. It’s my last National, but it was a very enjoyable one.”

Shutthefrontdoor’s trainer, Jonjo O’Neill, said: “He ran a blinder. He did everything right He was following the right horses, but unfortunately he wasn’t good enough on the day and maybe he didn’t get the 
trip. It’s good news, at least I’ve got AP for a couple more weeks [before retirement].”

A win for McCoy, the soon-to-be 20-time champion jockey in Britain with 4,356 wins in his career, would have cost bookmakers an estimated £50 million. David Williams, of Ladbrokes, said: “It’s been another cracking Grand National for us. We were cheering every runner apart from Shutthefrontdoor.”

Balthazar King, one of the favourites, had a heavy fall at the Canal Turn and received medical attention on the course but was given the all-clear.

There were no deaths in the race – for the third year running – and 19 of the 39 starters made it to the finish.