The Grand National is less than a month away and whilst the iconic race is notoriously hard for the punters to predict, it will be incredibly difficult to look past market favourite Cloth Cap in this year’s Aintree showpiece.
The Jonjo O’Neill-trained horse won his Grand National dress rehearsal by a comfortable seven lengths in the Premier Chase at Kelso on March 6th, and while he was already well fancied in the Grand National odds at Paddy Power, originally around 14/1, the nine-year-old is now as short as 6/1 with most bookies, making him the clear favourite with the likes of Kimberlite Candy, Burrows Saint and Secret Reprieve someway back at around 14/1.
The news that Tiger Roll wouldn’t be given the chance to land an historic third successive Grand National victory, as his entry was pulled by owner Michael O’Leary due to an unfair handicap, dominated the headlines. However, Cloth Cap has now stolen the spotlight, and it seems like he is the horse to beat come April 10th.
It was a fantastic run at Kelso from the nine-year-old, who lined up starter’s orders as the third favourite at 10/3 in the five-horse race. Many expected that it was just going to be a warm-up race for Cloth Cap, who needed another outing ahead of the National having not run since November. However, it was quite the opposite.
Cloth Cap set the pace for much of the two-mile, seven-and-a-half-furlong race, and had gained a good lead ahead of the final fence before leaving his competition behind as he romped up the home straight, recording a seven-and-a-half length victory over market favourite Aso.
“You couldn’t complain about that!” jockey Tom Scudamore said afterwards. “I thought he had a bit to find at the ratings, but he found it.
“He does all the talking himself. How he looks is how he rides, it’s very exciting for everyone involved. He’s going to be ahead of the handicapper now and he’s a deserving favourite but who knows, something might win the Gold Cup and be a stone well in.”
It was a second win on the trot for Cloth Cap, as he beat Aye Right by an impressive 10 lengths in the Grade 3 Trophy Chase at Newbury back in November. That victory put an end to the nine-year-old’s six-race winless streak, and now with the recent win at Kelso, he is well on track for next month’s National.
Of course, the Merseyside showpiece will be a completely different race for Cloth Cap. The longer distance and the much bigger field pose more of a challenge for the nine-year-old, but O’Neill is confident ahead of the four-mile spectacle whilst also conceding that a bit of luck will be needed.
“It was grand to see him do it,” the trainer said in regard to his victory at Kelso. “Tom knows him and gets on well with him. Hopefully we can keep him fit ahead of Aintree. He just keeps galloping and he jumps and stays well.
“We were a bit wrong with a few horses, but the main thing is to get there. This fellow stays forever but you need a lot of luck at Aintree. Trevor (Hemmings) is delighted and he’s very excited.”