It was Vintage by name, Vintage by nature in the Ultima Handicap Chase at Cheltenham, as 2013 Grand National winner Ryan Mania earned a first Festival victory.
They say if at first you don’t succeed, try and try again, and in the case of Vintage Clouds that proverb bore fruit at the fifth time of asking in the Cotswolds.
The 11-year-old saw off the fierce competition of pre-race favourite Happygolucky under David Bass to claim a five-and-a-half length victory.
If ever there was a feel good story for the sport, this was it, with Mania completing a remarkable return to the sport after five years in the racing wilderness, having retired from the sport in 2014.
But since returning to the sport in 2019, the 31-year-old has gone from strength to strength, with Tuesday’s victory yet another memorable moment in an illustrious career as he rode the perfect race from beginning to end.
“I’ll be honest I never thought I’d ever hear those words mentioned [‘Cheltenham winner’], it’s been a long road back,” Mania said.
“18 months after the Grand National I was in a dark space, and I saw no way out but to walk away from the sport that I love.
“I was enticed back with unfinished business being the main reason, and luckily I’ve come back and it’s going really well.
“I took nearly five years out of the game, to come back to Cheltenham, I was lucky to get rides let alone winners, so I’m absolutely over the moon.”
Vintage Clouds’ success was a seventh Festival victory for owner Trevor Hemmings, which included a 2010 double with Albertas Run and Ballabriggs, with the only grey in the field leading from start to finish in the third race of the opening day of the Festival.
And despite the constant pressure from Happygolucky and Aye Right, the 28/1 shot, trained by Sue Smith, kept the rest of the field at bay to ease to the line, with even Mania taken by surprise by the manner of the win.
“This horse has been a real stalwart in the yard, and the cheek pieces has helped, it’s just unreal,” Mania added.
“He was loving it the whole way round, he missed the last round the back, but I gave him a squeeze and he’s come right back underneath me.
“I knew then that I’d be on the premises at the end, but never did I think he’d storm it like he did.”