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Ascot on agenda for The Conditional

David Bridgwater has next month’s Dave Dawes Silver Cup at Ascot in mind for The Conditional, after he was placed in the Ladbrokes Trophy for the second successive year.

A Cheltenham Festival winner in March, The Conditional was running off a 9lb higher mark on Saturday than 12 months ago but once again ran with great credit – travelling as well as anything for jockey Brendan Powell until the second-last fence when, like everyone, he was left in Cloth Cap’s wake.

Bridgwater has the Grand National in mind for him this season but will not pass up the right opportunity beforehand if he thinks it presents itself.

“It was a good effort – almost a career-best, for the time being anyway,” said Bridgwater.

The Conditional (red hat) jumps the last still in touch with Cloth Cap
The Conditional (red cap) jumps the last still in touch with Cloth Cap (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

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“He was running against good horses who were hard fit, and we’d just had some minor problems – nothing serious, but things that stopped him cantering for a week, which catches up with you in these races.

“He jumped the ditch, and Brendan just felt him go, and he had he blow, but he kept going. I even thought at the second last we were going to win.”

Bridgwater’s previous flag bearer was The Giant Bolster, who finished in the first four in three Cheltenham Gold Cups under Tom Scudamore – Cloth Cap’s jockey at the weekend.

“Tom gave the winner a great ride – he only had 10st and he sprinted away,” said Bridgwater.

“On good ground, they don’t stop in front.”

“If I’m honest Newbury probably doesn’t play to our strengths, because they don’t come back to you, especially when they are ridden by an assassin like Tom Scu!

“At Cheltenham and the stiffer tracks, it’s harder to do what he did – they don’t get away from you as much and they come back. Ours isn’t ungenuine, but I don’t think we want to hit the front two out or anything like that.

“Look, we’d have loved to have won, of course we would, but to finish third, having been second last year – and it was first time out this year – I thought he’d improved physically and I’m looking forward to his next run now.

“I don’t think we’ll go to Warwick. I don’t think that Classic Chase suited us last year – it didn’t work, so why go back? The only time he’ll go beyond three and a quarter miles is if and when he runs in the Grand National.

“He won’t run over hurdles, I’m not into all that – it’s just not cricket for me. There’s a nice race at Ascot on December 19. It’s normally worth £100,000, but it’s £60,000 this year. He’ll have an entry for that, and we’ll see how we get on.

“If you’ve got dozens of horses for these races you can pick and choose. But it was the same when we had the Bolster – we took every race as it comes.”

Scudamore takes straightforward path to third Trophy victory

Keeping things simple can often be the best route to glory, as Tom Scudamore demonstrated with a fine front-running ride aboard Cloth Cap to secure a record-equalling third Ladbrokes Trophy success at Newbury.

Rarely will victory in one of jump racing’s flagship contests have much smoother than it was for the 38-year-old aboard Jonjo O’Neill’s charge.

While it is the final result that counts, getting a good start can often be overlooked – a factor Scudamore believes was key to the pair’s triumph.

Scudamore said: “I just wanted to get a good start. It’s the first time he has really had the ground since he was placed in the Scottish National.

“I just thought the important bit would be in the first four or five fences, as I didn’t want to get too far back and as I’d never get at them.

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“When he winged the first ditch, the second fence, I was thinking I could be in for quite a thrill here, and so it turned out. It was great, very straightforward.”

Getting down to 10st can be difficult for some jockeys, not for Scudamore though, who barely had to break out of his regular routine in order to take up, what would turn out to be, a rare winning ride for O’Neill.

He added: “Siruh Du Lac was taken out at the entry stage, I had ridden for Jonjo a little bit in the past and a bit more for Mr Hemmings and they wanted someone that could commit and do 10st.

“Richie (McLernon) was claimed for Regal Encore and Jonjo (O’Neill junior), with it being 10st, wouldn’t be able to do the weight, so it worked out quite nicely.

“I’m always quite fit and I wouldn’t be letting my weight get away with me, so it wouldn’t be a problem. I was still able to have something last night and just sit in a hot bath for half an hour this morning, but nothing too bad.”

Having eclipsed his father Peter’s tally of two wins in the race, Scudamore was delighted to be able to give O’Neill, who failed to win the three-and-a-quarter-mile prize as a rider, his first victory in the Grade Three as a trainer.

He added: “Jonjo is just about the best trainer of staying chasers there is. He has won the Grand National, Irish Grand National and Gold Cup, he beat me (as a trainer) in the Gold Cup and I forgive him now!

“I’ve won it for the Pipes, Tizzards and Jonjo and that is quite an impressive roll of trainers to win a big race for, so I’m very grateful and Dad and Jonjo go back a long way.

“He has always been very kind to me, so I’m pleased I’m able to reward his faith with a nice winner.”

The stands may have been sparsely populated with only a small number of owners, trainers and racecourse staff dotted about, but it failed to take the gloss off the victory for Scudamore.

He added: “It is sad there are not many people here, but from my point of view, you have to concentrate on the job in hand.

“Yes it would be nice for other people to be here and great for the racecourse, but in the circumstances racing has done a great job.

“Growing up, I always felt it was one of the classic races. To come out and win this again is a great thrill, as it is one of the best races on probably the best course to ride.”

Cloth Cap makes all for Ladbrokes Trophy triumph

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.

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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’.

Aye Right (right) delighted his trainer Harriet Graham
Aye Right (right) delighted his trainer Harriet Graham (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“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.”

Hopes high for Aye Right team in Ladbrokes Trophy

Harriet Graham’s Aye Right will carry the hopes of the north when he heads to Newbury on Saturday for the Ladbrokes Trophy.

The seven-year-old is vying for favouritism in the historic three-and-a-quarter-mile handicap, after a third-placed finish behind Cyrname in the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby.

Piloted by regular jockey Callum Bewley, Graham’s charge was beaten seven lengths by Paul Nicholls’ Gold Cup hope, with the Kim Bailey-trained Vinndication taking the runner-up spot.

“It was a great performance,” said Jedburgh-based Graham, who trains alongside her role as clerk of the course at Musselburgh and Hamilton Park.

“We would have been quite content, coming into the Ladbrokes Trophy, had we been fifth or sixth. Cyrname, let’s be really honest here, he probably could have beaten us by 20 or 30 lengths. We were all probably relying on him making a mistake, he is an incredibly classy horse, a dream horse.

“Aye Right is probably not a Cyrname, but he’s a really good galloping, jumping horse.”

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Aye Right will meet Vinndication again this weekend, this time on 7lb better terms with five lengths to make up.

“Vinndication is a really good horse and Kim Bailey is a very good trainer, I really respect Kim Bailey,” Graham said in a conference call hosted by Great British Racing.

“You have to think there’s maybe a chance that we could get closer. You don’t need to look at the betting, you just need to look at the horses.

“There would be an argument for most horses winning the race, and we’re very, very aware of that. We’re real realists up at the Borders, we know anything can go wrong and we just hope to God that it doesn’t.

Harriet Graham aboard her big-race hope Aye Right
Harriet Graham aboard her big-race hope Aye Right (Harriet Graham)

“Everybody’s there and everybody’s going to be wanting to win the race. That’s what makes National Hunt racing. They’ve not only got to gallop, they’ve got to jump all of those fences, they’ve got to have the right tactics and it’s all got to go right.

“Most of all they’ve got to have a lot of luck as well, whoever wins it.”

Bewley – who will be riding at Newbury for the first time – was equally impressed by his mount’s Charlie Hall effort.

“Saturday is a big day for everybody, and I do think the horse has done nothing wrong,” he said.

“At Wetherby, the Charlie Hall – that run was solid, he ran a cracker I thought. He jumped and put a lot of horses under pressure, good horses. It will be very interesting going in on different terms this time, weight-wise.

“He’s the best I’ve ridden, he’s just so straightforward from a jockey’s point of view. He’s very forward going, he jumps very well and he’s maybe not the biggest horse in the world but in terms of what he can do out on the racecourse, he’s very special.

Callum Bewley has a big day ahead at Newbury on Saturday
Callum Bewley has a big day ahead at Newbury on Saturday (Richard Sellers/PA)

“The way he can jump and travel, he seems to get horses off the bridle a long way from home and he finds that he’s still in his comfort zone.”

Bewley has partnered Aye Right in all but one of his 19 racecourse appearances and has long been an admirer of the horse.

“I always said, from day one, whenever he started, that I thought an awful lot of this horse. Always,” he said.

“It’s easy to say now, but I’ve always thought the world of him. Even when he’s been beaten in his races, the heart he shows is serious. He just tries so hard for you and he won’t back down.

“I suppose that’s why he’s so good, he’s a good one and hopefully he can prove it on Saturday.”

The Conditional heads 19 in contention for Trophy honours

The Conditional, winner of the Ultima Handicap Chase at Cheltenham, is among 19 horses confirmed at the five-day stage for the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury on Saturday.

Should David Bridgwater’s eight-year-old turn up in Berkshire on Saturday, he could face Kildisart and Vinndication, who finished second and fourth respectively behind him at the Festival.

Vinndication’s trainer Kim Bailey also has Two For Gold left in the prestigious handicap chase over an extended three and a quarter miles.

Trainer Colin Tizzard, who has saddled two of the last four winners, is double-handed with Copperhead and Mister Malarkey.

Paul Nicholls has Secret Investor and Danny Whizzbang as the Ditcheat handler looks to win the race for the fourth time, having also won it as a jockey.

Another trainer with two possible strings to his bow is Anthony Honeyball. The Dorset handler has Regal Encore, third in this race in 2017, and Sam Brown.

Others in the mix include Harriet Graham’s Aye Right, third in the Charlie Hall Chase when the Warren Greatrex-trained La Bague Au Roi was fifth and Nigel Twiston-Davies’ Ballyoptic, who tops these weights, was pulled up.

Graham hoping to be in attendance for Aye Right’s Trophy bid

Harriet Graham has still not given up hope of being at Newbury when Aye Right runs in the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury on Saturday.

Graham, who also acts as clerk of the course at Musselburgh and Hamilton, only trains a small string in the Scottish Borders and Aye Right has already taken her to the Cheltenham Festival.

He caught many an eye when third to Cyrname in the Charlie Hall Chase last time out, and ever since has been among the favourites for one of the most prestigious handicaps of the season.

Graham’s attendance has been in doubt, though, since she was run over by her own lorry when attending to what she thought was a driver in distress. In the accident Graham broke her pelvis.

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“I’m definitely better than I was and getting better by the day,” she said.

“I’m still hoping to go. I’ll make a decision on Wednesday, all I need to be able to do is sit in the lorry and hobble around when I get there. So I’m hoping to go, but it’s not definite yet.”

As for Aye Right, having been second on his seasonal debut over an inadequate trip at Kelso to subsequent Old Roan winner Nuts Well, he ran a career-best at Wetherby.

“He’s very well at home, we haven’t changed his routine, he’ll do a bit of work on Monday or Tuesday and then he’ll just lob and canter until we go down.

Aye Right in the parade ring at Cheltenham
Aye Right in the parade ring at Cheltenham (Harriet Graham)

“His first run this season we always viewed as a prep race, the trip was always going to be a bit sharp, but it sharpened his jumping up because he jumped really well at Wetherby.

“Being a small trainer we can only train with the horses we have here. We sometimes take him to other yards to school and he did have a school around Perth, but there’s nothing like a race to sharpen him up.”

She added: “I think we need to be honest with ourselves and Cyrname could have beaten us a lot further if he’d wanted, but I don’t think Vinndication was that far away from us. Cyrname is a different class to Aye Right, and most of the others in Britain to be honest.

“We think in time he’ll stay even further than this, he just jumps and gallops, he doesn’t really have a turn of foot. The Scottish National has been mentioned, but in this day and age that is a long way off, it didn’att happen last year.”

Tendon injury sidelines De Rasher Counter for the season

De Rasher Counter has been ruled out for the season due to a tendon injury.

Emma Lavelle’s chaser was being prepared to defend his Ladbrokes Trophy title at Newbury later this month after finishing second on his seasonal bow over hurdles at Newton Abbot in October.

However, the eight-year-old has suffered a setback and Lavelle feels the best course of action is to draw stumps for the whole campaign.

“He just had a bit of heat in his near-fore (leg) this morning,” said Lavelle.

“He is 100 per cent sound, but I just wasn’t happy with it. Our vet came in and scanned it and there’s a mark on the tendon, so that’s the end of our defence – for this year anyway.

“It’s not the end of the world, these things happen, but it’s a kick in the teeth.

“He’ll miss the whole season because if we try to bring him back earlier and it doesn’t work, then we’ll miss longer, so if we bite the bullet and take the sensible route, it’s the best thing.

“He’s only eight, he’s a lovely horse, so it makes sense to give him time and bring him back when there’s a bit more normality in the world.”

Ladbrokes Trophy on radar after Siruh’s early Paddy Power exit

Siruh Du Lac may attempt to gain compensation in Newbury’s Ladbrokes Trophy after his early Paddy Power Gold Cup exit.

The seven-year-old failed to complete for the third race in succession when he parted company with Tom Scudamore at the first fence in Saturday’s Grade Three handicap at Cheltenham, on his stable debut for David Pipe.

Assessing future plans, Pipe is considering stepping Siruh Du Lac up to three and a quarter miles for the first time on November 28, in a race for which he is a general 20-1 shot.

Pipe said: “It was over very quickly in the Paddy Power on Saturday – and there were a few expletives, that’s safe to say!

“That’s racing, though, these things happen and he seemed fine after the race.

“He is in the Ladbrokes Trophy and he might go there, or we might just wait and go back to Cheltenham in December for the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup.”

The Conditional taking direct route to Trophy date at Newbury

David Bridgwater hopes The Conditional is still improving as he prepares to try to go one better than last year with victory in this month’s Ladbrokes Trophy.

Bridgwater has deliberately chosen to keep the eight-year-old fresh and head for Newbury’s big handicap first time out.

Twelve months ago, The Conditional had already run twice for Bridgwater following his arrival from Ireland last season, when he outran his odds to finish a close second to De Rasher Counter.

The Conditional (left) had to settle for second in last year's Ladbrokes Trophy
The Conditional (left) had to settle for second in last year’s Ladbrokes Trophy (Nigel French/PA)

The Cotswolds trainer then took him to Warwick in the new year, and believes it was the track rather than a move up to three miles and five furlongs that contributed to his defeat there.

The Conditional concluded his successful campaign with victory at the Cheltenham Festival, in the Ultima Handicap Chase, and Bridgwater is optimistic there should be plenty more to come this season.

“That’s the plan,” he said, confirming a long-term intention to head straight to the Ladbrokes Trophy without a prep run this time.

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“I don’t abuse them anyway – and he goes well fresh.”

Bridgwater reports The Conditional to be thriving after the Covid-19 lockdown provided him with a longer rest than intended since his Festival success in March.

“He’s definitely a bigger, rounder type of horse,” he added.

“When we (first) had him, he was quite a tall and lean horse really.

“But with the summer he’s had out, he’s come back in twice the size.

“Whether that means he’s twice as good, or a little bit better, I don’t know. (But) he’s certainly a different shape anyway.”

David Bridgwater (left) hopes The Conditional can spark more celebrations this season
David Bridgwater (left) hopes The Conditional can spark more celebrations this season (PA)

Bridgwater is convinced another big spring prize was within his grasp, if the pandemic had not intervened.

“After Cheltenham, if racing had continued, we’d have run him again – and he’d have won again, because he’d come forward so much,” he said.

“But racing was shut down, and that was it.”

He also believes that although The Conditional weakened into a well-beaten fifth at Warwick, it was an invaluable learning experience for horse, trainer and jockey Brendan Powell, who was then on board for Festival success.

“If we hadn’t run him at Warwick, we wouldn’t have won at Cheltenham,” he said.

“Brendan and I learned a lot (at Warwick).

“The (longer) trip’s not a problem. (But) the course probably didn’t suit him – the fences come quick, and Brendan was probably asking him a little bit too early, and it was just one of those races that didn’t pan out for us really.

“But I’m glad we ran, because we wouldn’t be where we are now otherwise.”

The Conditional is currently favourite with some bookmakers for the Ladbrokes Trophy after Topofthegame was ruled out for the season.

Topofthegame ruled out for the season

Paul Nicholls has been forced to rule his classy chaser Topofthegame out for another season.

Winner of the RSA Insurance Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham in 2019, Nicholls had high hopes he would develop into a Gold Cup contender last season.

However, as his preparation for last year’s Ladbrokes Trophy was stepping up a gear he was halted by a leg injury.

While the problem was nothing too serious, Nicholls felt a year on the sidelines would give him the best chance of returning this season – with the Ladbrokes Trophy again his aim – in tip-top shape.

Unfortunately, with the Newbury feature just weeks away, the eight-year-old has been ruled out again.

“I’ve scratched him from the Betfair (Chase) and Ladbrokes Trophy as I’ve just had to draw stumps for the season with him,” said Nicholls on Monday.

“The warning lights have been flashing for the last couple of weeks. I was not happy with him last week and we had the vet scan him today and although there is no tear he just needs more time to recover, so we will leave him for the rest of the season and get him back for next season.

“He had the tendon injury last season and he is still not strong enough to do full training. If we had carried on he would have broken down, but as we have stopped there is a good chance we will get him back for next season.

“We had done everything can, but when the warning lights come on you simply have to stop and after having him scanned this morning it confirmed what myself and Clifford (Baker) thought.”

The Betfair ambassador added: “It’s part and parcel of the game and he was always going to be difficult as he is so fragile, but hopefully we will get him back for another day. We have lots of other horses for these races, but I’m gutted for his owners.”

Topofthegame on course for Ladbrokes Trophy return

Topofthegame remains on target to return to action in the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury on November 28.

Paul Nicholls’ charge won the RSA Chase in 2019 before finishing second at Aintree in April that year, but he missed last term after sustaining a leg injury.

Despite the financial constraints currently prevalent due to the pandemic, the race is being run at a value of £200,000 and 39 horses have been entered.

“We remain on target with Topofthegame, with the plan to go straight for the Ladbrokes Trophy,” said Nicholls.

“We’ll probably take advantage of the invitation to gallop him at Newbury in mid-November as part of their official gallops morning.

“The prize-money on offer for the big race and across the two days is very good considering the current climate.”

Last year’s winner De Rasher Counter, trained by Emma Lavelle, will be aiming to become the first back-to-back winner of the race since Arkle.

De Rasher Counter (right) provided Ben Jones with a big win in the race last year
De Rasher Counter (right) provided Ben Jones with a big win in the race last year (Nigel French/PA)

“De Rasher had a nice warm-up when coming second off top weight in a handicap hurdle at Newton Abbot a couple of weeks ago, which was a little earlier than we had originally planned,” said Lavelle.

“We are looking forward to running him again in the Ladbrokes Trophy, as well as Paisley Park, who will make his seasonal appearance in the Ladbrokes Long Distance Hurdle on the Friday.

“The whole weekend last year was quite amazing and all being well, both horses will be back defending their titles in just a few weeks’ time.”

Colin Tizzard’s Copperhead is second favourite behind Topofthegame, who heads the sponsor’s betting at 5-1.

Kim Bailey’s pair of Imperial Aura and Vinndication are prominent with The Conditional, Black Op and Kildisart others to note. There are no Irish-trained entries for the race.

Newbury hope Kildisart set for hurdles prep

Cheltenham Festival runner-up Kildisart will run over hurdles at either Wetherby or Carlisle this weekend – with the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury his early-season aim.

Ben Pauling’s eight-year-old was being aimed at the Grand National last spring before the pandemic struck.

After a couple of below-par runs last winter, Kildisart bounced right back to his best in March when second to The Conditional, beaten just a neck in the Grade Three Ultima Handicap Chase.

He holds entries this weekend in the Grade Two bet365 Hurdle at Wetherby on Saturday and Carlisle’s Join Racing TV Now Handicap Hurdle on Sunday.

“Wherever he runs this weekend, and I haven’t had chance to discuss it with Anthony (Bromley, racing manager to owners Simon Munir and Isaac Souede) yet, it is all preparation for the Ladbroke,” said Pauling.

“He’s in very good order with himself for his first run of the season – we’re happy with him, and he will run somewhere this weekend.

“He was right back to his best at Cheltenham. He is a very nice horse, but last season just didn’t work out for him early doors for one reason or another.

“After that he came right back and you couldn’t have asked for much more at Cheltenham, being beaten a neck.

“Obviously, he was then going for the National off what looked a favourable weight.

“But it is what it is, and it didn’t happen, so this season we’ll look to have a crack at the Ladbroke and make a plan from there.”