Cheltenham, Aintree, Punchestown are not the racecourses that you would normally associate Kevin Ryan with but soon he may have to swap the top hat of Royal Ascot for the tweed of Cheltenham. Beyond The Clouds has been a real star in his first season hurdling but he took his form to another level when downing some big names and winning the 1m7f Sky Bet Supreme Scottish Trial Novices’ Hurdle at Musselburgh.
It is just over a year ago since Clouds made his racecourse debut, a winning start at Musselburgh in a bumper. That impressive win was followed by another strong performance when narrowly going down in a similar contest, finishing 2nd. Kevin decided that he would be patient after that run and the chestnut would not be seen until September where once again he would tackle the flat version of National Hunt racing. He picked up right where he left off and won his second race from three starts with ease. The decision was made that Clouds would have to take the next step in his career, tackling hurdles for his next run. Back to Scotland and this time Kelso, where Clouds made a faultless hurdling debut to win by 2 lengths. Not only impressive with his jumping but the form was franked, showing that Clouds really did have a promising future. That was confirmed next time out when he again travelled north to Musselburgh. This time he did make an error, early on when he was a bit complacent, but the result was the same.
Beyond The Clouds’ record stood at 4 wins from 5 runs and 2 from 2 over hurdles. Kevin had always though a lot of the chestnut but he knew that now he would have to ask the 5 year old some serious questions. There had been talk of the big jumps festivals sine his last win so Kevin knew that he would need to find out if Clouds was good enough to tackle the very best Novice Hurdlers. Having shown an affinity for Musselburgh, Kevin decided to keep Clouds in the north and declared him for the Scottish Supreme Novices’ trial. Many would think this was to avoid any big names but once the line up came out it was obvious that this would be a top quality event despite the small field size. Claimantakinforgan was the star turn, having won a Grade 2 trial at Ascot last time out.
Clouds had never raced on ground slower than good and going into the event Kevin was open about being unsure whether the chestnut would handle slower ground. When the ground was described as soft it put plenty of punters off and Beyond The Clouds was allowed to go off at a relatively large price of 7-1. Nobody has done more work with Clouds than Brian Hughes and he was again in the saddle. Forgetting any ground worries Brian jumped off and confidently sat in third place as they headed down the opening hurdle, with the favourite just on his outside. First hurdle was negotiated with ease and Clouds immediately wanted to go forward. As he skipped over the second obstacle he had taken a length out of the leader and jumped into second place, right on the tail of the leader. With the third again taken with speed and ease, Clouds had almost jumped into the lead and was growing in confidence. There was a long run to the fourth hurdle and Brian wanted to keep his exuberant partner under wraps until later in the contest. Applying the brakes, Brian got Clouds to settle once again as he kept the shortest route round.
Running down the far side the order had not changed as the runners all maintained their positions. It was being run at a decent gallop but none of the field had made a mistake thus far. Clouds seemed to be handling the softer conditions and as he took the fourth hurdle in his stride it began to look as though he may be ok on the ground. Down the back straight and over the fifth and sixth hurdles there again no mistakes made by any of the field. Clouds was really building in stature and his fluent jumping was ensuring that he was applying pressure to the leader and favourite Claimantakinforgan, who was just by his side.
The leader had jumped ok throughout but as they left the back straight, Harry Cobden began to work trying to open an advantage to his rivals. The move was matched easily by Claimantakinforgan and Beyond The Clouds who kept tabs whilst travelling on the bridle. As they rounded the bend and entered the home straight they bared down on the 7th hurdle. Again Clouds was perfect at it and quickly away on landing. With the leader not fluent at it and the favourite not as quick, Clouds found himself in front. Brian wanted to be more patient but his partner was just travelling so well. Hard on the bridle still his rivals suddenly needed to get to work to stay with him. With the second last taken with ease it was now that Clouds had to start working. Although he had been foot perfect throughout, he had not yet won the race. Favourite Claimantakinforgan was not giving in and Simply The Betts was rallying from the rear.
Brian was working now, pumping along in the saddle as they bared down on the final hurdle. Clouds just started to have a look around and although he was smart over the obstacle, he jumped left which slightly knocked his momentum. With a few lengths advantage Brian started to get serious to ensure Clouds put the race to bed. Favourite Claimantakinforgan was beaten now but it was Simply The Betts who was really starting to motor on the run in. Beyond The Clouds had been in front for a while and the ground was now just starting to take it’s toll for the first time. Clouds was still galloping on but Simply The Betts was cutting into his lead. With just 100 yards to go it was obvious that Clouds was always going to win but his winning margin was cut to just a neck as they crossed the line.
This was the biggest test for Beyond The Clouds and he passed it with flying colours. Not only was it the toughest opposition but Clouds had to prove himself on the softer ground. His jumping was perfect and was really is impressive about Clouds is how efficient he is and then how quickly he gets away from each hurdle. Yes he did begin to shorten his stride close to home and give the second a slight sniff of victory but this was due to a couple of factors. The ground obviously made it quite testing but Clouds was getting lonely. He had been in front since the 3rd last flight and was looking for company. This was another step in the right direction and now Graded company is the next step. Cheltenham will probably be avoided in favour for Aintree. The Grand National host will suit Beyond The Clouds much more. He is quick and fluent over the hurdles whilst travelling strongly through the race and also showing a good turn of foot. Obviously wherever he goes next will be a big ask but Clouds has already proven he deserves that step up and is a bright star for the north.