Scottish jockey Ryan Mania secures shock win on Vintage Clouds at Cheltenham Festival - seven years after retiring with weight issues
Vintage Clouds, ridden by Scottish jockey Ryan Mania, provided the first shock of the Cheltenham Festival, with a 28-1 victory in the Ultima Handicap Chase.
Sue Smith’s grey was running in the opening handicap of the meeting for the fifth year in succession.
The 11-year-old’s best previous effort was second in 2019 – but this time, he took over on the final circuit and was never headed again.
Runner-up Happygolucky, the 100-30 favourite, and third-placed Aye Right both ran with great credit but never looked like pegging back the winner, beaten five and a half and a further two and a quarter lengths respectively.
Mania, from Galashiels, shot to fame riding Auroras Encore to victory in the 2013 Grand National at Aintree.
But he announced his retirement as a jockey the following year at the age of 25, citing problems maintaining his riding weight as the main reason.
He worked as a master huntsman for the Berwickshire hunt and also had a spell as assistant trainer to Sandy Thomson, a National Hunt trainer in the Borders.
He reversed his decision to retire in October 2019, citing improvements in sports nutrition which allowed him to manage his weight more effectively.
After being told he is a ‘Cheltenham Festival winner’, Mania said: “I’ll be honest, I never ever thought I’d hear those words mentioned.
“It’s been a long road back. Everyone knows I took nearly five years out of the game – and to come back to Cheltenham, I was lucky to get rides, let alone winners.
“This horse has been a real stalwart on the yard. He needed a wind op, and the cheekpieces have helped. It’s unreal.
“He was loving it the whole way round. We missed at the last down the back, and I just gave him a squeeze and he came back underneath me. I knew then that I’d be on the bridle at the end – but never did I think he’d storm up the hill like he did.”
“About 18 months after the Grand National I was in a dark space and I saw no way out other than to walk away from the sport I love. I was enticed back with unfinished business being the main reason. Luckily it’s all gone really well.”