Cloth Cap has put himself in contention for a crack at the Grand National next season a bid to end Tiger Roll’s dominance of the event at Aintree. Jonjo O’Neill’s charge has been a model of consistency over the last three years, and is entering his prime at the age of eight. He produced an excellent performance at Newbury to notch his first win of the campaign, and that could set him up for a charge at the signature race of Jumps racing, staged the day before Andoversford's annual fixture.
Owner Trevor Hemmings has a proud history at the Grand National, triumphing with Hedgehunter, Ballabriggs and Many Clouds over the last 16 years. Cloth Cap appears to be his next horse capable of putting Hemmings in the most prestigious of winner's circles. O’Neill’s charge is considered one of the leading contenders on the horse racing betting exchange to claim the win. The presence of Tiger Roll will always be a challenge, although the great horse has not been himself this term. With his opportunity to win a third National derailed by the Covid crisis, this may be the opportunity for a new name to come to the fore.
Last year, Cloth Cap took in the Scottish Grand National at Ayr and put forward a good performance to finish in third. It was a solid ride by Richie McLernon in the horse’s first race over four miles. He was four lengths off the pace of the winner Takingrisks, but was only beaten out of second place by a nose by Crosspark. O’Neill’s charge was consistent in races at Ascot and Doncaster, although victory eluded him, especially at the latter when he was beaten a neck by My Old Gold.
Jonjo is no stranger to winning big handicaps, especially at the Festival, and opted to place Cloth Cap in the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup. His first experience of Cheltenham did not go to plan, placed eighth and 18 3/4l lengths behind the winner Milan Native, ending his 2019/20 campaign on a low note. However, he returned for the new season with a vigour in his step at Cheltenham. With McLernon in the saddle against talented competition, the eight-year-old only lacked the speed in the closing stages to contend with Frodon and West Approach in a race over 2m 5f. It was another third-place effort for the Irish-bred, after a 226-day layoff.
O’Neill next sent his charge forward for the Ladbrokes Trophy Chase, but due to his two-year win drought, others were stronger fancied. However, Cloth Cap would prove his doubters wrong and send out a strong message for the Grand National in the process. Tom Scudamore in the saddle got the best of the horse, who dominated the field to record victory by 10 lengths.
Based on that performance, Jonjo will now be preparing the Irish-bred in the coming months for a crack at Aintree. Of course, Jonjo is no stranger to National success. Having never won the famous race as a jockey, victory was especially sweet when Don't Push It laid the National bogey for Champion A P McCoy and popular champion owner J P McManus in 2010. Tiger Roll, Burrows Saint, Any Second Now and Presenting Percy are also in contention, but Hemmings and O’Neill can feel confident that, if their charge performs to his best, then a triumph in the National is well within their grasp.
Who knows, we may yet be able to parade Cloth Cap at Andoversford on Sunday April 11!