Randox Horse Tales | Oliver Sherwood shares his memories of Many Clouds, The People’s Horse
There was only one horse that Oliver Sherwood wanted to write about when he was asked to take part in Horse Tales – his 2015 Grand National winner Many Clouds. He was the horse of a lifetime for the Lambourn-based trainer who was hooked the moment he saw him. Clouds tragically died earlier this year and Sherwood says he misses him every day.
The minute I saw him, I knew there was something special. Of course, we all think that. But there was something about Clouds that I just liked from the start.
I had come to look over Mr Hemmings’ young horses when I first saw Clouds. He was a raw, barely broken three year old, and I saw an individualism about him, a character that appealed. From that moment I wanted to be the one to train him.
I’m sure other trainers saw Clouds’ potential too but every time I went to Mr Hemmings’ place, I’d mention to Mick Meagher, the manager, how much I liked him. However I really didn’t expect to get him, so when Mr Hemmings started allocating his horses and Mick called to say they were sending him to me, I was surprised and delighted.
When we started the serious training, I thought he was above average. You can’t be certain – I’ve seen before how horses show form but then can’t perform on the racecourse. That didn’t happen with Clouds. He won on his debut at Wetherby in February 2012, crossing the line 10-15 lengths in front. Right then I knew my gut had been right – he was going to be special. I started hoping and planning for the Hennessey Gold Cup.
He had a summer holiday after that and thickened out. When he came back, he won a handful of hurdles, and came second in the EDF Final the Saturday before Cheltenham, carrying top weight. We were certain that hurdles would be a stepping stone for him.
He was a natural chaser. In 2014 – 15 he won at Carlisle and then won the Hennessey. The rest is history. He won at Cheltenham in January though disappointed in the Gold Cup. But then he won at Aintree in 2015 and that put him on a different level.
As with so many fairy tales from the National, it was unexpected. I’d thought it was too soon for him, but I was persuaded to give it a go. It was a sensational victory. It was the second fastest time – 8 minutes 56.8 seconds, and he did it with 11 stone 9 pounds – almost the top weight. In fact no other horse had carried a higher weight and won at Aintree since Red Rum in ’74. His jockey – Leighton Aspell – said it was the best ride he’d ever had over the fences.
I was staggered by how worldwide the National is. For many trainers you want to win the Gold Cup, it’s the 100m sprint, but when I was being interviewed for the first time by broadcasters in Australia, the US and Japan after winning in 2015, they saw it as the pinnacle.
One thing is absolutely true though – you’ll never forget it. You try to explain to people who have never had horses – but you simply can’t express the thrill of seeing your horse in your colours pass the finishing post in the lead. It was Sir Fred Pontin trying to get that across to Mr Hemmings that got him into racing in the first place. He’d won with Specify in 1971, and showed Mr Hemmings the trophy. He ended up bequeathing it to him in his will – by which stage Mr Hemmings had already won one himself with Hedgehunter.
God puts you on this planet and you are what you are. Clouds, he was a performer, a competitor. He loved to race. He was a nervous horse, a bit spooky but he got more confident as he grew older. He was the proverbial gentle giant, he always wanted to please. He loved his work, he was always very keen to get out and race. Leighton was the only one who schooled and raced him.
Clouds’ last race was his best ever performance. He won by a head in a photo-finish in the Cotswold Chase at Cheltenham but suddenly suffered a severe pulmonary haemorrhage and despite the best efforts of the team on the course, he died just afterwards.
We’ve been overwhelmed by the reaction from people. There have been over a thousand letters – never mind emails and Facebook messages – from all over the world. My wife has responded to every single one of them. People responded to him- they saw he was a trier and they loved that. People could relate to him – in a way he became the people’s horse.
When he won at Aintree thousands of people came out to see him when he came home. Everyone celebrated his win, and that depth of feeling continues today. Our local open day has been renamed after him, and in the village a bench will be placed in his memory thanks to the local council and the Jockey Club. At a party on Saturday here, we still had kids coming up and asking about Clouds. It’s just staggering the impact he had and the inspiration he gave to so many. I am certain he’s bringing a lot of new people into racing.
He was cremated and his ashes were returned to the Isle of Man where Mr Hemmings lives. His shoes will be mounted on a wooden plaque, and his best races inscribed on it. We’ve still got the plaque which was mounted on his box after the won the Grand National.
I’ll never forget Clouds. He will always be in my memories and those of the whole team here in Rhonehurst. Yet I’m glad he went out on a high. I’d rather that than have him suffer an injury. Death happens to us all – I would love to go as he did.
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