Cloth Cap ran the opposition into the ground with a superb all-the-way triumph in the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury.
The Jonjo O’Neill-trained eight-year-old was given an ultra-positive ride by Tom Scudamore, who also made the most of carrying bottom weight in the prestigious staying handicap chase.
With Cloth Cap, carrying the familiar colours of Trevor Hemmings, putting in an impeccable round of jumping, Scudamore was always in control.
The well-fancied Vinndication was close up but he came down at the fifth-last fence.
Aye Right, who was prominent throughout, tried to lay down a bid, as did last year’s runner-up The Conditional, but Cloth Cap held all the aces.
The 9-1 shot galloped on strongly from the last to win by 10 lengths from Aye Right (12-1). The Conditional (14-1) was a length and a half away in third place with The Hollow Ginge (50-1) fourth.
Cloth Cap was slashed to 25-1 from 66-1 with Paddy Power and Betfair for the Randox Health Grand National.
O’Neill said: “He has been in tremendous form. His run at Cheltenham when Richie (McLernon) rode him was a cracker. It was great – he jumped brilliantly, it was just brilliant.
“I said to Tom ‘he gets four miles, so the rest is down to you’ – obviously he did his home work. The ride came about through Dave Roberts his agent. We were looking for someone to do 10st and I couldn’t do it, so I thought Tom was the next best thing!
“I was second on Tamalin one year, behind a horse (Zeta’s Son) ridden by Ian Watkinson and trained by Peter Bailey. Michael Buckley owned it and I can still see the colours.
“It is a great start to the season and it was brilliant. Most of the team are running well.
“It is great to win it for anybody. For Trevor it is great, as he loves long-distance chasers and we have been trying to get him to run in the National really, so he is probably on a mark where he will probably get in.
“He needs good ground and that is important to him really. If he gets his ground in the National, take the price now. I was a bit worried about the ground as the lads were saying it is a bit slower today as he wants it good. It was good enough and that is the main thing.”
Graham said: “We are just so chuffed. All week I’ve been thinking ‘are we above ourselves taking on all these fantastic trainers and fantastic southern horses’.
“I’ve always thought so much of him and Callum (Bewley) and him have got on really well. We’ve stayed loyal to our jockey and the owners stayed loyal to him and he did a fantastic job.
“The horse jumped incredibly and galloped and we were brave enough to take it to them – it was a super job.
“Over cups of coffee at the kitchen table, we’ve often thought of the Scottish National and we had been going to go to that meeting last season for a supporting chase. That is on the radar, but it is a long way away. I think we have a really nice horse.”