Grand National hero Many Clouds trained by Oliver Sherwood, was found to have suffered a severe pulmonary hemorrhage which caused his untimely death following his heroic victory in Saturday’s Grade 2 Cotswold Chase at Cheltenham on Festival Trials Day.
The 10-year-old son of Cloudings had produced a career best performance at Prestbury Park over the weekend, lowering the colours of steeple-chasing’s newest star, King George winner Thistlecrack in a scintillating contest over an extended three miles and one furlong.
However, after scoring by a neck, the Trevor Hemmings-owned gelding collapsed and died shortly after crossing the line, despite being attended to by vets. An autopsy report found that the 2015 Aintree hero had suffered from an internal bleed.
Initial reaction to the death focused on Many Clouds’ past problems with post-race ataxia, a syndrome where a horse overheats and suffers a loss of balance; a condition the horse exhibited following his Grand National win.
However, the British Horseracing Authority moved swiftly to allay these fears by conducting a post-mortem which found that the horse was not suffering from any underlying health issues and died solely from an internal hemorrhage.
Tony Welsh, acting chief veterinary officer for the BHA, commented: “Episodes such as this are rare, and can occur in horses which have no underlying health issues, and amongst all disciplines of sport horses.
“Post-race ataxia and similar symptoms are linked to an increase in body temperature after exercise and can be treated by providing the horse with water. It is not uncommon in racehorses or other sport horses.
“Despite some reports following the incident, there is no existing veterinary evidence which links these symptoms with racehorse fatalities, and the post-mortem results have categorically proved that the symptoms exhibited by Many Clouds in the past were in no way present or associated with his sad death at Cheltenham.”
Many Clouds’ death has been met with a sombre reaction within the racing world with tributes pouring in for the popular ten-year-old who was famed for his tenacity and never-say-die attitude.
His despondent trainer Oliver Sherwood remarked: “A horse like that is a complete dream. I’ve been in the game 32 years and horses like that don’t come along very often. He was a horse of a lifetime. He was beat at the last and fought back in the last 50 yards to win. What more can you say?
“It’s sad for Trevor Hemmings, sad for my head man Stefan, my travelling head girl Lisa and all the team at Rhonehurst. It happens to us all; we’ll all go one day. You’ve got to be philosophical about it and enjoy the moments; the Hennessy, the National.”
The Grand National winner’s death followed a typically brave performance from the gelding who jumped superbly at Prestbury Park and stayed on gamely up the Cheltenham hill to fend off the challenge of Thistlecrack under Tom Scudamore, causing a seismic shift in the ante-post market for this year’s Cheltenham Gold Cup in March, suggesting that the race is more open than many people thought before the Cotswold Chase.
Lambourn handler Sherwood, reflecting on his gutsy victory at Cheltenham, continued: “He wanted to win that race, by God he wanted to win. That was almost a career best and I know one thing; I want Thistlecrack to go and win the Gold Cup to show it wasn’t a fluke. I feel sorry for Leighton and everyone involved in the race. But life goes on.”
Leighton Aspell, who gave the horse a superb ride at Cheltenham, partnered Sherwood’s charge in all of his 27 starts, which included his 2015 Grand National victory and 2014 Hennessy Gold Cup success. He described Many Clouds as a ‘jockey’s dream’.
The Irish jockey commented: “For him to have won the way he did was remarkable. The tank was empty but still he gave his all. Many Clouds emptied his tank for me many times, and kept coming back for more. He never flinched from a battle.
“It was a privilege to have been part of such a wonderful partnership. He has been wonderful for my career and we had some great times.
“After the line, as we pulled up, he felt as bright as a button, his ears were pricked. There was no hint of anything untoward. He was already in recovery mode after such a tough race and he seemed absolutely fine.
“We were circling round waiting for the course to clear and to be interviewed. Then suddenly he started getting wobbly in his hind legs. He sat down, then he lay down and died. I imagine he had a hemorrhage or ruptured an aorta or had a heart attack.
“You could see instantly he was gone by the look in his eyes and the colour of his gums. We lost him pretty quickly. The lights simply went out. I waited while the vets tried to save him, then said my goodbyes.”
A winner of 12 of his 27 starts under rules, the Irish-bred gelding won £928,000 in prize-money during his career which started with a 12-length win of a Wetherby bumper in 2012. Many Clouds finished ninth in that year’s Champion Bumper at the Cheltenham Festival and when switched to hurdling, won two of his six starts over the smaller obstacles.
However, chasing was the making of the gelding who started his career over fences with a two and a half-length success at Carlisle in 2014. Particular highlights included his three and a quarter-length success in the 2014 Hennessy Gold Cup, whilst his superb weight-carrying performance under a welter burden 11st 9lbs at Aintree in the 2015 Grand National will arguably be seen as his finest performance.
However, his second victory in the Cotswold Chase (also successful in 2015 edition) on Saturday will almost certainly have a knock-on effect in March where Thistlecrack will seek to emulate Coneygree by winning Racing’s Blue-Riband event, the Cheltenham Gold Cup as a novice chaser. Colin Tizzard’s charge had his Gold Cup credentials severely questioned by Many Clouds, which has raised considerable debate surrounding the chances of Thistlecrack winning the three miles, two and a half-furlong Grade One event in March.
The end of Many Clouds’ glittering career robs the sport of an interesting spectacle in the Gold Cup, but his gladiatorial will-to-win ensures that this distinctive gelding will live long in the memory of National Hunt fans.