Vintage Clouds (grey) and Ryan Mania© Photo Healy Racing
Vintage Clouds finally won the Ultima Handicap Chase at the fifth attempt with a game display at Cheltenham.
The Sue Smith-trained grey, owned by Trevor Hemmings, made a lot of the running before his stamina and determination kicked in as he improved on two placed efforts from his four previous efforts in this staying contest.
Jockey Ryan Mania had the 11-year-old Vintage Clouds (28-1) at the front from the start with Pym and Alnadam also close up.
There was little change in the order until the tempo increased with five fences left to jump.
Pym soon weakened, but Vintage Clouds stuck to his guns and kept finding extra to win by five and a half lengths from Happygolucky with Aye Right a further two and a quarter lengths back in third and Cepage fourth.
Mania said: “It’s unbelievable. It’s a shame my first Festival winner comes under these circumstances, but it truly doesn’t matter. It’s a very memorable day.
“I rode him in this race last year and he made a noise coming down the hill. I said then he needed a wind op and he had a couple more runs this season and it became clear that he needed a wind op.
“We sent him away for that and the application of cheek pieces has sharpened up his jumping. He used to spend quite a lot of time in the air, whereas today he was really slick over his fences and with the wind operation helping as well, he’s got his day today.
“Realistically we thought he had a good each-way chance — that’s all you can really hope for coming to Cheltenham. We were confident he would run his race as he always does — he’s a real determined warrior.”
Mania quit the saddle for a spell before returning in 2019.
He added: “It hasn’t really sunk in yet. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d come and ride a Cheltenham winner, especially so soon after coming out of retirement. I couldn’t be happier.”