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National favourite Cloth Cap cruises to Kelso success

Cloth Cap cemented his place as ante-post favourite for the Randox Grand National with a dominant front-running display in the bet365 Premier Chase at Kelso.

Making his first appearance since landing the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury in November, Jonjo O’Neill’s charge was sent off at 100-30 in the hands of Tom Scudamore – and could hardly have been more impressive.

Sent straight to the lead, Cloth Cap jumped accurately throughout and had his four rivals on the stretch before turning for home.

A bold leap at the final obstacle sealed his seven-and-a-half-length success over Aso, prompting his odds to tumble for next month’s Aintree spectacular.

“I was very pleased with him. He travelled away nicely and jumped well,” O’Neill told Racing TV.

“He always jumps a little bit left, that’s his make-up. So long as he comes home safe and sound now, we’ll be happy.

“He’s just in great old form at home – he’s a happy horse. He’s a bit of an old character, but he’s a year older and a bit stronger and things are going right for him at the moment. Fingers crossed it will stay that way for a bit longer.

“He jumps well and he stays well, which are two good things to have when you’re going for a National.

“The plan was to go and win the National last year. We don’t mind if it’s a year late!”

Owner Trevor Hemmings has already won the Grand National three times
Owner Trevor Hemmings has already won the Grand National three times (David Davies/PA)

O’Neill, who famously provided Sir Anthony McCoy with an elusive Grand National success through Don’t Push It in 2010, is hoping Cloth Cap can secure owner Trevor Hemmings a fourth, following the previous triumphs of Hedgehunter (2005), Ballabriggs (2011) and Many Clouds (2015).

He added: “It would be special to win the National for him (Hemmings). He’s just told me off, because the horse will be too short a price now and he won’t be able to back him!”

An appearance at Aintree is also on the agenda for My Drogo after extending his unbeaten record over obstacles to three with a facile success in the bet365 Premier Novices’ Hurdle.

Trained by Dan Skelton and ridden by his brother Harry, the six-year-old was the 2-1 favourite to complete his hat-trick following previous wins in a maiden hurdle at Newbury and a Grade Two Ascot.

Carrying a penalty for that latest win, My Drogo was forced to concede weight all round in his bid to double his Grade Two tally.

However, he proved more than up the task, pulling clear in the straight for a nine-and-a-half-length victory over Do Your Job.

Dan Skelton, making his first visit to Kelso, said of My Drogo: “He’s very good and every question you ask of him he answers.

“He’s got all the ingredients. He’s tough and jumps nicely and has that pace I think all good horses need.

“I’m really impressed with how his season has progressed. He’s a very genuine horse and always a willing partner.

“We’ll step up in grade now and go to Aintree, hopefully. Next year he’s going chasing, so he’s got it all mapped out ahead of him.”

The Shunter (right) won the Morebattle Hurdle
The Shunter (right) won the Morebattle Hurdle (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Irish raider The Shunter won the most valuable race of the afternoon, the bet365 Morebattle Hurdle.

The Emmet Mullins-trained gelding won the Greatwood Hurdle at Cheltenham in November, before reverting to fences to finish third in a handicap chase at Leopardstown’s Dublin Racing Festival.

Switching back to the the smaller obstacles for this £75,000 contest, The Shunter dug deep in the hands of Alain Cawley to see off Night Edition and Faivoir in a driving finish.

Mullins was at Navan, where he completed an across-the-card double with Noble Yeats in a maiden hurdle.

He said of The Shunter’s victory: “That was marvellous. It’s brilliant for Paul (Byrne, owner) as he’s put plenty of money into it and he has two nice horses there to look forward to.

“They went a ferocious gallop at Kelso and the pace collapsed halfway through. It turned into a war of attrition and ‘Squeaky’ (Cawley) was good and was strong on him.

“Anything we’ve asked the horse to do, he keeps coming up trumps for us. He’s a real star.

“Fingers crossed he’ll go to Cheltenham now. There is a huge bonus and it’s great to have a chance at it.

“I’d say we’ll have to take our chance once the horse is OK. He had a tough race there today, we’ll give him every chance to get over it and try to find one of the races in Cheltenham for him.

“He’s in plenty of them and we’ll keep all options open.”

My Drogo stars in Premier prize at Kelso

My Drogo heads a high-class field for the bet365 Premier Novices’ Hurdle at Kelso.

The £40,000 contest forms part of a quality card in the Borders, with the huge prize-money on offer in the three feature events in particular tempting the likes of Dan Skelton and Paul Nicholls to send runners on the long journey north.

My Drogo must concede weight to each of his six rivals, having already won at Grade Two level on his latest outing in the Sky Bet Supreme Trial at Ascot in December.

Nevertheless, Skelton is anticipating a big run in Saturday’s two-and-a-quarter-mile contest.

He said: “We’ve had this race in mind for some time for My Drogo. Obviously he carries the penalty, but I think the trip will be perfect for him and there are no real excuses.

“I’m very happy with him. We decided it was the best thing for him to miss Cheltenham this year and he might go here and then Aintree, but we’re taking it one race at a time.”

Irish point-to-point recruit Bareback Jack is stepped up in grade by Donald McCain in the same race, following a hat-trick of novice wins at a lower level.

“It’s a good race. Credit to Kelso – they’ve put the money on and they’ve got the horses,” said the Bankhouse handler.

Donald McCain has high hopes for Bareback Jack
Donald McCain has high hopes for Bareback Jack (Nick Potts/PA)

“Bareback Jack is a smart horse, we think a lot of him.

“Obviously it’s a step up, so we’ll see where we are.”

The Nicholls-trained Lucky One and Any News from Neil Mulholland’s yard also feature.

Nicholls told Betfair: “He has kept improving as he learns to settle better in his races, which is key to his performance and the form of his latest win at Wincanton is red hot, with the horse he beat 20 lengths hacking up earlier this week.

“He is very much going the right way and deserves to take his chance in this better race.”

The Shunter (right) runs in the Morebattle Hurdle at Kelso
The Shunter (right) runs in the Morebattle Hurdle at Kelso (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

With a total prize fund of £75,000 up for grabs, the most valuable race on the card is the bet365 Morebattle Hurdle.

The likely favourite is Emmet Mullins’ Irish raider The Shunter – winner of the Greatwood Hurdle at Cheltenham in November, before reverting to fences to finish third in a handicap chase at Leopardstown’s Dublin Racing Festival.

The home team includes Skelton’s Faivoir, who switches back to handicap company following a Grade Two novice win at Haydock.

Skelton said: “He won the graded race for us last time and is quite a progressive horse.

“I think a fast-run race will suit him and this is the next step up the ladder.

“He’s running off 143, which is a high mark for a novice, but I’m very happy with him and we’ll see how we get on.”

McCain is hopeful the application of blinkers can help Blakeney Point bounce back from a slightly underwhelming effort at Musselburgh, saying: “It just didn’t quite work out for him the last day – he got a little bit lost early on.

“We’re putting a pair of blinkers on to sharpen him up and he’s got a good weight, so hopefully he’s got a squeak of sorts.”

Ann Hamilton’s Tommy’s Oscar and the Nicholls-trained pair of Christopher Wood and Solo are others to consider in a fiercely-competitive affair.

Nicholls said: “Christopher Wood is up 7lb to a mark of 150 after his latest success at Musselburgh, so Angus Cheleda’s 7lb claim is obviously a big help.

Solo has plenty to prove
Solo has plenty to prove (Julian Herbert/PA)

“The first two were a long way clear of the rest that day and I’m hopeful that Christopher Wood can again be bang there at the finish in a strong field of runners.

“Solo made a big impression on his debut in this country a year ago in the Adonis Hurdle at Kempton, but the horses he beat that day have hardly advertised the form.

“Solo has not found life easy racing off a stiff handicap mark this season, but it has dropped to a more realistic level now and he has started to come together in his work over the past couple of weeks and is showing us the right signs.

“It wouldn’t surprise me to see him run well at a nice price.”

Premier prep for Grand National favourite Cloth Cap

Randox Grand National favourite Cloth Cap warms up for next month’s Aintree spectacular in the bet365 Premier Chase at Kelso on Saturday.

A small but select field of six runners line up for the £45,000 contest, with the Jonjo O’Neill-trained Cloth Cap making his first competitive appearance since landing the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury in November.

The nine-year-old is the 14-1 market leader to provide owner Trevor Hemmings with a fourth Grand National success on April 10, following the previous triumphs of Hedgehunter (2005), Ballabriggs (2011) and Many Clouds (2015).

O’Neill said: “He’s in grand form and it looks like the ground is drying out for him.

“He’s not chucked in the race – he’s not well-in (at the weights). We’re going there for the ground more than anything else.

“He has his little issues, but he’s fine at the minute and everything is going according to plan.”

Tom Scudamore rides Cloth Cap
Tom Scudamore rides Cloth Cap (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Tom Scudamore, who steered Cloth Cap to big-race success at Newbury, is once again on board with a view to keeping the ride at Aintree.

“I hope that’s what will happen, as long as everything goes according to plan,” O’Neill added.

“I don’t want to ride him, anyway. I don’t think I’d do the weight, so he (Scudamore) won’t have a lot of competition!

“We’ve only got one plan in mind, which we’ve had for the last two years.”

The Hemmings colours are also set to be carried this weekend and at Aintree by Nick Alexander’s stable star Lake View Lad.

Lake View Lad winning the Many Clouds Chase at Aintree
Lake View Lad winning the Many Clouds Chase at Aintree (Tim Goode/PA)

The grey beat Cheltenham Gold Cup contenders Santini and Native River when landing the Many Clouds Chase at Aintree in December, but finished a long way behind that pair in the rescheduled Cotswold Chase at Sandown on his latest outing.

“It’s a proper race and I’m pleased it’s a really good race. Kelso have put on some great prize-money and it looks like the number one meeting on the day,” said Alexander.

“It’s a slight step down in grade for Lake View Lad – this is more his grade than the Cotswolds Chase was, so hopefully he can run well.

“This has always been the plan. It’s a nice prize and a nice race.

“He’s not particularly well in at the weights – if everyone performs to their mark he’s going to be third or fourth, but hopefully he’ll run very well before heading back to Aintree.”

Definitly Red is bidding for back-to-back wins in the Premier Chase
Definitly Red is bidding for back-to-back wins in the Premier Chase (Julian Herbert/PA)

Last year’s winner Definitly Red is back to defend his crown for Brian Ellison, but does have something to prove, after finishing well-beaten in the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby before falling in the Rehearsal at Newcastle.

Ellison said: “This his prep run for the National, hopefully.

“Everything has been fine since the Rehearsal. He went to Wetherby last week for a hack round and we’ve just been waiting for this race.

“He’s in good fettle.”

Two For Gold (Kim Bailey), Aso (Venetia Williams) and Cool Mix (Iain Jardine) complete the sextet.

Frost claims Kelso’s Tuesday card

Kelso’s meeting on Tuesday has been abandoned due to a frozen track.

The Borders venue called an inspection for noon on Monday after a succession of cold nights.

Frost covers were laid over the vulnerable areas, but they were not enough to save the meeting when temperatures dipped to -3C.

Clerk of the course Matthew Taylor tweeted: “Fixture @KelsoRacecourse abandoned on Tuesday 26th. Track currently frozen and would need more than 24 hours to thaw.”

Wetherby’s meeting on Thursday must pass a 9am inspection on Wednesday.

Following last week’s rain and snow, parts of the back straight are currently flooded or frozen.

Temperatures will need to rise in order for conditions to improve and while a frost is expected on Monday evening, it should be warmer from Tuesday.

A tweet from the course read: “Sadly the course has several areas of frozen water still standing. Plus we’ve now got frozen ground too!

“Forecast is moderately favourable, but we have scheduled an initial inspection to assess progress at 9am on Wednesday morning.”