If the Cloth Cap fits: Grand National contender impresses on prep-run *H&H Plus*

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  • Trevor Hemmings is bidding to win a fourth Grand National with a horse named after his trademark headwear

    In the week Tiger Roll, the 2018 and 2019 Randox Health Grand National winner was taken out of the race as his owner, Michael O’Leary, felt he had been given too much weight in the handicap, it is not beyond the bounds of possibility we saw his successor in action at Kelso on Saturday.

    The previous time we had seen the Jonjo O’Neill-trained, Trevor Hemmings-owned Cloth Cap, he ran away with the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury. And as National trials go, his performance in the bet365 Premier Chase at the Borders track was almost faultless. Leading pretty much from start to finish, the nine-year-old son of Beneficial had his rivals in trouble a long way out, and extended away in the manner of a horse in great form from the last to beat Aso by 7½ lengths.

    If you were nit-picking, he jumped a bit left occasionally but that should not hinder him at Aintree where a bit of left-hand down never did anyone much harm, particularly down by the Canal Turn. Otherwise, his jumping was exemplary; he clearly has scope, he was accurate but well able to put a short one in if he was too far off one.

    He likes decent ground so heavy or very soft might be a problem at Aintree, but the race is a week later than usual so more likely to be too dry than too wet. Kelso was good to soft which, with water if necessary, is the wicket they’ll try to prepare for Aintree.

    Tactically, he seems to enjoy being in front. Of course, 4¼ miles is a long way to try to make the running and, if he did, he would not get the sort of peace he got in front in a five-horse race at Kelso.

    However, the advantage of being near the front at Aintree is that there is less chance of being brought down, so one imagines Tom Scudamore would have him in the first four or five for the first circuit. Either way, he is unlikely to ever have a better chance of winning it.

    The jockey, whose late grandfather Michael won the National on Oxo in 1959, has never done better than sixth in the race. His father, Peter, might have set a new record for winners at the time, but he never finished closer than third on Corbiere.

    As partner of winning trainer Lucinda Russell, Peter Scudamore has subsequently won it with One For Arthur so, as they say, “No pressure, Tom.”

    Said the jockey: “I had a good spin on him in the Ladbrokes Trophy through circumstance and Mr Hemmings and Jonjo asked me if I was available for the National, again through circumstance – Richie McLernon has Kimberlite Candy to ride. Jonjo has won it and Trevor has won it a few times so if you can’t beat them, join them.

    “He does all the talking himself,” he added. “How he looks is how he rides. He’s going to be ahead of the handicapper now and he’s a worthy favourite but who knows, something might win the Gold Cup and be a stone well in.

    “He handles the big fields – he ran very well in the Scottish National. That was more testing ground today than Newbury and he handled it well. It will be his first time at Aintree but he’s been around big tracks. He’s very versatile and just a pleasure.”

    Ever since Hemmings worked for Fred Pontin who won the race in 1971 with Specify, Hemmings has been obsessed by the race and has won it three times; with Hedgehunter, Ballabriggs and Many Clouds. Cloth Cap is named after his signature headwear.

    “It’s a huge bonus”

    If one Mullins is not enough, we now have a second from the next generation – Willie’s nephew Emmet, and his training career goes from strength to strength.

    Most of the Cheltenham prep races have been run, but Kelso enticed a big field for the bet365 Morebattle Hurdle with the lure of a £100,000 bonus for the winner if it goes on to win at Cheltenham next week. Mullins lined up his Greatwood Hurdle winner, The Shunter, for this bonus and the horse duly delivered under Alain Cawley to beat the Scudamore-Pipe combination’s Night Edition 1¼ lengths.

    He is certainly not short of options at Cheltenham, having been entered in two chases and three hurdle races.

    “Today was well picked out by Emmet and his owner Paul Byrne,” said Cawley. “It was well spotted. He has a lot of entries and I’m not sure what he’ll run in. I’m glad to get past the line in front today. I’m very good friends with Emmet and when I was working in Ireland, I lived with him for a few years. We keep in touch and when he brings them over, I ride plenty for him.

    “I rang Brian Hayes and Robbie Power who’ve been riding him and they were brilliant – they told me exactly what he’d be like.”

    Mullins said: “It’s brilliant for Paul Byrne as he puts plenty of money into it. They went off a ferocious pace. “Squeaky” was good on him and had all his homework done on him – that was the difference between winning and losing.

    “The horse is a star. He had a hard race there and if he’s over it, we’ll try to find a race for him at Cheltenham. It’s great to have a chance at it.”

    Also published in H&H 11 March 2021

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