You can always rely on the team at Jackdaws Castle to prep up a big handicap winner in the season, and they don't come much larger than the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury. This £200k staying chase is one of just 3 of that value during the entire season, the others being the Aintree and Scottish Nationals.
Running off bottom weight in a perfect piece of placing, the Trevor Hemmings' owned Cloth Cap made just about all the running in this searching steeplechase to hold off northern raider Aye Right and two other Gloucestershire-trained horses in David Bridgwater's The Conditional and Nigel Twiston-Davies' The Hollow Ginge. It was a piece of front running tactics by Tom Scudamore that came straight out of his father's textbooks.
Cloth Cap was cleverly placed, and looks a case of typical O'Neill patience. His last win was in a modest handicap at Catterick in November 2018, but he showed his wellbeing earlier last month in a shorter race at Cheltenham's opening fixture. There was enough there for a tilt at a big prize.
Jonjo is rightly popular amidst the sport. He's been Champion Jockey, and a top trainer consistently among the top five for as long as one dare remember. The move to Jackdaws Castle was seen by some as a play for the Championship, but in reality, whilst that would undoubtedly be welcome, the game is more about ensuring winners for his owners than about personal glory. Nor is the yard solely the domain of JP McManus; the ownership base is wide and varied.
By way of example, listen again to his post race interview this afternoon with the team from ITV. This is the master of understatement: "He gave Tom a nice spin" is the way he described the race. And of course, as always, Jonjo says very little and lets his horses do the talking.
Forty winners on the board put the yard among the most prolific across the UK, and today's victory catapults him over Fergal O'Brien into third place in the Championship. Three other Gloucestershire trainers are among the top 10.
Those others also got on the scoresheet this afternoon, albeit at the day's third fixture. Nevertheless, every one counts, and the Twiston-Davies team can sleep satsified with a double at Bangor, whilst Stow's Graeme McPherson, and his Pointing graduate jockey Lilly Pinchin, secured another Bumper winner to conclude the card.
As Arthur Stephenson said, "little fish are sweet".
Going for Sunday April 3 - Good (Thursday)
6m SE Cheltenham, nr junction of A40 and A436 (Exit 11A, M5)