Should Many Clouds have been rated the top staying chaser?
Lambourn correspondent James Burn
I was recently asked what made Many Clouds such a well-loved horse and it didn't take long to respond.
For a start, he was a Grand National winner, but he was also the type of old-fashioned staying chaser people adore, was trained by the popular Oliver Sherwood, ran in familiar colours and had a noteworthy name, especially for anyone who has experienced a British summer.
They are, however, all things official handicappers disregard and it's easy to see why they found his dismissal of Thistlecrack in January's Cotswold Chase the standout staying chase performance of 2016-17.
Thistlecrack had just five weeks previously romped home in the King George, but met a Many Clouds rejuvenated by a pre-season wind operation who was thought as good as ever by connections and had no answer. Or excuses.
It was a shame neither made Cheltenham and Sizing John – rated 2lb below the Lambourn hero – has the potential to improve, but last season was about one handsome, lion-hearted horse who melted hearts and had a touch more class than perhaps people credited; he was holding subsequent Gold Cup second Minella Rocco (who fell) when winning a Listed chase at Aintree in December.
There were many reasons Many Clouds was such a popular horse, but there were also many that made him such a good horse, as the handicappers have rightly concluded.
Ireland editor Richard Forristal
When defending his outlandish assertion that Outlander would be the highest-rated horse to contest the Grand National in modern times, Phil Smith proposed that Cheltenham in March would reveal all. It did.
Sizing John peaked in the Gold Cup, numbering among his lesser rivals the benchmark that is Smad Place, whom he thrashed by 27 lengths.
The same horse was just 17 lengths behind Many Clouds when the much-missed 2015 Aintree hero posted his seasonal-best turn in the Cotswold Chase.
Maybe that’s a crude interpretation, but we should also acknowledge by now that the form of the previously indomitable Cotswold runner-up Thistlecrack has holes all over it.
In February, I agreed with Sizing John’s Irish mark of 164, and he surely improved 7lb in the Gold Cup, in which he stamped his authority all over solid rivals rated 168 and 165.
That would have left him on Many Clouds' rating of 171, yet the handicappers’ final assessment suggests that the ten-year-old – who never came close to winning a Grade 1 – would have proved superior at Cheltenham.
That just doesn’t ring true, same as it didn’t when objectivity was eschewed and Outlander was given his inflated rating for Aintree.
The Gold Cup invalidated that theory pretty spectacularly, which is why it is recognised as the acid test of a staying chaser. As such, it is an unjust snub to Sizing John not to give him his due.