Posts

Scudamore sets sights on emotional success for Cloth Cap at Cheltenham

Tom Scudamore will feel privileged when he wears the colours of the late Trevor Hemmings as Cloth Cap makes an emotional return to action in the 888Sport What’s Your Thinking Handicap Chase at Cheltenham.

It will be the first time the iconic silks have been seen on a racecourse since the triple Grand National-winning owner died earlier this month at the age of 86.

Cloth Cap was strongly-fancied to give Hemmings a fourth win in the Aintree spectacular in April, after winning the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury and the Premier Chase at Kelso, but was pulled up by Scudamore before the third-last fence after running well for a long way. He was found to have a respiratory problem and underwent wind surgery a few days later.

“It will be lovely to put those colours back on again. Let’s hope it’s very fitting to Trevor, and we can go and do him proud,” said Scudamore.

“I’ve not sat on him so far this year. I’ve been into Jonjo’s (O’Neill, trainer) but I didn’t get to sit on him – but that doesn’t bother me at all. Jonjo’s very happy with him.

“Let’s hope we can get back on track tomorrow. There will be lots of different emotions, mainly for the Hemmings family, and we just want to do Trevor proud.

“It was a tremendous thrill (to win at Newbury). He jumped from fence to fence. He gave me two great days and gave me such a great ride in the National for a long way as well – and he was fabulous at Kelso.

“There’s plenty more in front of him. He’s in his prime. The way he went through last season showed us he’s got plenty more to offer.

“He had a great year last year, and let’s hope he can do more of the same this time.”

Among Cloth Cap’s opposition, John McConnell reports Go Another One to be in fine shape after a successful summer campaign.

“It’s competitive. He ran very well in the Kim Muir in the spring. That’s pretty good form to bring into the race. He’s obviously in form after his win in Perth,” said the County Meath trainer.

“We haven’t got much up our sleeve handicap mark wise, but he should run another good race. He’s in great nick.”

Oliver Sherwood feels Jersey Bean will come on for the run. although he expects the eight-year-old to do himself justice on his first start for 192 days.

“He did us proud last year. He does love the better ground. He’s won at Cheltenham. This is a big step up – he’s on a career high (over fences) at the moment,” said the Upper Lambourn handler.

Trainer Oliver Sherwood expects Jersey Bean to come on for his first run of the season
Trainer Oliver Sherwood expects Jersey Bean to come on for his first run of the season (Simon Cooper/PA)

“Whether he’s up to this, I couldn’t tell you. He stays well – his jumping has got good.

“He’s not wound up. He will definitely improve for his first run. He’s entitled to be there – and where else do you go when you’re rated 137? It’s nice to get him back on the track. He’s been a good servant.”

Paul Nicholls has warned he may not run Truckers Lodge if he considers the ground is not soft enough.

“He is a regular at Chepstow, where he excels in the mud, and he was due to run there a fortnight ago until I withdrew him with the ground drying out,” Nicholls told Betfair.

“Although he has been dropped a couple of pounds recently, I fear he is still too high in the handicap to be competitive. But he is ready to run, and his long-term aim is another crack at the Coral Welsh National – which he so nearly won in 2019.

“I hope they have had enough rain at Cheltenham for Truckers Lodge and will check out the going when I get there. If there are any doubts I will pull him out again.”

Alan King is delighted to get Tritonic back for his second season over jumps, in the Masterson Holdings Hurdle.

The four-year-old was a leading juvenile last term, winning the Grade Two Adonis Hurdle. He was only fifth in the Triumph at Cheltenham, but had a legitimate excuse.

“He was under the weather after that race (Triumph Hurdle) and scoped badly,” the Barbury Castle trainer told www.alankingracing.co.uk.

“It took him a long time to get over that, and he hadn’t recovered in time for Aintree, so we drew a line through that jumps season.

“We’ve been happy with Tritonic this autumn, and the ground could well be good at Cheltenham, which will suit him because he has plenty of pace.”

Dan Skelton has aimed Stepney Causeway at this race for some time, after he chalked up a four-timer in the spring.

“I’m looking forward to it – he’s in great form,” said the trainer.

“He goes well left-handed. He’s facing a hot one in Tritonic, but this is where we were always going to go.

Hatcher bids to get back on track after a disappointing run last time
Hatcher bids to get back on track after a disappointing run last time (David Davies/PA)

Skelton expects Hatcher to put a disappointing run behind him when he lines up for the 888Sport Handicap Chase.

The eight-year-old was a tailed-off last of six when bidding for a four-timer at Cartmel in August, but Skelton put that down to Hatcher not taking the long journey up to Cumbria well.

“He’s hiding nothing from the handicapper off 150, but he loves decent ground,” said the Alcester handler.

“He was below his best the other day – he didn’t perform at all.

“He’s better not travelling too far from home, and this is only down the road. For him, that’s a good thing.”

Among the opposition is the O’Neill-trained top weight Sky Pirate, who has not run since lifting the Grand Annual Challenge Cup at the Cheltenham Festival.

Summer Hurdle prize goes to Stonific

Stonific made light of a lengthy break from hurdling to take the £35,000 Betway Summer Handicap Hurdle at Market Rasen.

Trained by David O’Meara and campaigned on the Flat since February 2020, the eight-year-old had been successful three times on the level during his jumping sabbatical and showed no signs of rustiness under the National Hunt code.

Starting at 40-1 under Tom Scudamore, the bay battled past his rivals in a tight run in to the line to prevail by a head from Emma Lavelle’s Hang In There.

“I just wish David had a few more jumpers after that, he’s got enough Flat horses,” smiled Scudamore said after the performance.

“It’s been too long (in front of a crowd) for obvious reasons, but it’s lovely to see everybody and for a syndicate like this, there’s plenty of stories and it doesn’t take much to get involved.”

“He was very tough there and it’s nice to get a winner for David and the owners.”

Steve Jessop, representing winning part-owners Hurn Racing Club, added: “We’re all from Beverley and there’s 14 in the group, while the other half (Rasio Cymru) had a winner last night, so we’re having a good do!

“We’re just working class people and we’ve had the syndicate for 25 years so it’s just unbelievable to win this.”

Take The Fear enjoys a deserved drink
Take The Fear enjoys a deserved drink (Molly Hunter/PA)

Taste The Fear continued his fine run of summer form when taking the Heed Your Hunch At Betway Handicap Hurdle for Sam Twiston-Davies and Dr Richard Newland.

The six-year-old has won twice since March and has been placed in virtually all of his runs this year, finishing second on his handicap debut at Uttoxeter last time out after a spring campaign in novice company.

Starting at 100-30 for the six-runner contest, the gelding travelled strongly throughout and eventually took up the lead with two flights remaining, crossing the line two and three-quarters of a length ahead of Ask Henry.

“It was nice little race for him and he’s such a genuine horse,” Newland said.

“We had injury problems with him last year and we couldn’t get him on the track after his bumper win, but since we’ve got going he hasn’t looked back.

“If he hasn’t won he’s been placed on nearly every run, he’s been super.

“He’ll have a break, he will handle softer ground so in my eyes that might help him, I’m going to give him a six-week break and then you’ll probably see him back in October or November.”

Dal Horrisgle followed up an easy win at Uttoxeter with another at Market Rasen, this time taking the Betway Novices’ Hurdle by eight lengths under Tom Cannon.

The 1-5 favourite of a field of three, Alan King’s charge continued his fruitful summer campaign when making all the running and coming home comfortably ahead of both of his rivals.

“It’s a hot day and he had a bit of weight so we didn’t have to go hard,” Cannon said.

“We just got racing two (hurdles) out and he won really nicely.”

Sir Hoodie was victorious for his new stable when taking the Betway Handicap Hurdle for Harry Bannister and Alex Hales.

The seven-year-old joined Hales’ yard following the retirement of Charlie Mann, finishing fifth on his debut for his new handler and progressing to seal a five-and-a-half-length victory in Lincolnshire.

“When Charlie retired he very kindly asked the owners to send some horses our way and this is one of them,” Hales said.

“She came to us and was a bit disappointing, but she’s had a wind op and the owner adores her, she’s won plenty of races and she’s a lovely mare to have around.

“I’m thankful because Charlie put a lot of faith in me with these horses, so it’s great to win with one.”

Sunset Showdown prevailed at 3-1 for Aidan Coleman and Rebecca Curtis in the Betway Novices’ Limited Handicap Chase, after which the concluding race of the day, the Heed Your Hunch At Betway Handicap Chase, was claimed by Rooster Cogburn (85-40 favourite) for Sean and Peter Bowen.

Mighty Thunder records famous ‘home win’ in Scottish National

Mighty Thunder provided Scottish trainer Lucinda Russell with victory in the Coral Scottish Grand National at Ayr.

Trained in Kinross by Russell and her partner Peter Scudamore, Mighty Thunder was an 8-1 chance for his latest National assignment after winning the Edinburgh National at Musselburgh and finishing second in the Midlands Grand National at Uttoxeter on his last two starts.

Rounding the home turn, it looked like Sandy Thomson could saddle the first two home, with 7-1 favourite Dingo Dollar and his stablemate The Ferry Master clear at the head of affairs.

However, Mighty Thunder responded to jockey Tom Scudamore’s urgings to close the gap and reeled in Dingo Dollar on the run-in to land a popular success by three-quarters of a length.

Irish raider Mister Fogpatches beat The Ferry Master to third place.

Mighty Thunder is the first home-trained winner of Scotland’s most famous jumps race since Merigo in 2012.

Russell said: “I’m delighted for the horse and his owners. It’s mixed emotions because it’s sad for Blair Campbell missing the ride due to injury, as he has kind of produced the horse, but these things happen and it’s fantastic Tom could ride and keep it in the family.

Trainer Lucinda Russell with Mighty Thunder
Trainer Lucinda Russell with Mighty Thunder (Jeff Holmes/PA)

“It’s been a tough time through Covid for the owners as they provide alcohol to pubs and clubs and things, but this will certainly brighten up their day.

“This is the horse’s first season over fences. He’s such a laid-back horse during a race, you can come with a late run at the end – he’s just made for these long-distance races really.”

The victory comes just nine days after Ahoy Senor claimed Grade One glory at Aintree for the team.

Russell has also won the Grand National on Merseyside with One For Arthur in 2017, while Brindisi Breeze was a Cheltenham Festival winner for the yard a few years ago.

Asked where winning the Scottish National ranks in her achievements, Russell added: “It would have to be second to the Grand National, but it’s a pretty good second place.

“I’m very proud of the way all the Scottish horses ran in it. They’re putting northern horses back on the map and that’s what we wanted.”

The trainer hopes Magic Thunder could be a realistic contender for the Randox Grand National at Aintree in 12 months’ time.

She said: “We’ll take it a step at a time, but I think we’ll probably go for the Becher Chase (in December) and see if he takes to the fences at Aintree.

“If he does then great, and if he doesn’t, we’ll aim at the Scottish National again.”

There was a sad postscript to the four-mile contest after it was confirmed the Sandy Forster-trained Claud And Goldie had collapsed and died in the pulling-up area after passing the post in ninth place.

Jonjo O’Neill relishing National buzz with Cloth Cap

Jonjo O’Neill has achieved almost everything in racing, but there is still one race above all others that gives him a buzz – the Randox Grand National.

O’Neill famously won the Champion Hurdle and Gold Cup on Dawn Run, trained a Gold Cup winner in Synchronised and provided Sir Anthony McCoy with a previously elusive National win with Don’t Push It.

It can therefore be said the hugely popular trainer has been there and done that – as well as fighting and beating cancer – but the thrill of preparing a favourite for the most famous race of them all still gets his juices flowing.

“We’ve got everything crossed now,” said O’Neill.

“He’s basically done everything right this year – and it’s just a case of whether he can carry on doing that, I suppose. We obviously hope he can.”

Cloth Cap always looked like a stereotypical National horse – and being owned by Trevor Hemmings, who is seeking a record fourth win in the race, it has always been his aim.

Having finished fourth in the Scottish National as a novice in 2019, the 2020 event at Aintree was immediately on his radar. But even before Covid wiped the meeting out, Cloth Cap would not have been there, because he was not rated high enough.

This season, on good ground, he has gone to another level – finishing third to King George winner Frodon before winning the Ladbrokes Trophy impressively and following up at Kelso. If the handicapper had his time again he would give Cloth Cap another 14lb to carry, and his odds have continued to tumble.

Cloth Cap and Tom Scudamore in full flight at Newbury
Cloth Cap and Tom Scudamore in full flight at Newbury (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“He was impressive at Newbury, but I suppose you could say he was well handicapped there,” said O’Neill.

“At Kelso he looked good again, but I don’t know if those behind him ran up to their marks.

“Whether he was as good as he looked that day or not, you still had to be delighted with his performance, whatever went on behind.

“He got into such a lovely rhythm up there. Whether he can on Saturday we’ll see. Can you make all over four and a quarter miles? We’ll find out. He doesn’t have to make all, but he does like to be prominent – when he cocks that jaw it’s hard to bring him back.

“Given the forecast, the ground won’t be soft, which is a relief. They’ll put plenty of water on to make sure it’s safe. But I’m expecting it to be good to soft, good in places, something like that, and then you couldn’t have any complaints.

“All I’ve been bothered about for the last few weeks is to get him there safe and sound. He did his last piece of work on Tuesday morning and went well – and after that it’s just been a countdown. After that there’s no more I can do.”

After a relatively quiet spell for the last couple of years by his standards, which has nevertheless seen his son Jonjo jnr emerge as a rising star of the weighing room, O’Neill cannot help but let himself get a little carried away.

He said: “It’s still the magic race, it’s like no other. You could run it 100 times and get a different winner each time. Look at Fairyhouse on Monday, a 150-1 winner. The National is the National.

“It’s always a great thrill to be involved – and despite all the pressure, you’d rather be going with a 4-1 chance than one at 40-1.”

For his two impressive wins Tom Scudamore has been on board, and connections have stuck with him.

“I was just in the right place at the right time,” said Scudamore.

“Richie (McLernon) usually rode him, but had to ride something else in the Ladbrokes Trophy. I was going to be at Newbury and could do the weight.

“Newbury was a great thrill. It meant a lot to me and it looked a great spare to pick up. It’s actually turned into a great ride to get.

“He’s had a fantastic season so far – so let’s hope he can continue in that vein.

“You can’t allow yourself to think about winning. I won’t be thinking that until we’ve crossed the line – you’ve got to go and get it done, there’s no point thinking about it.

“At Kelso he jumped and galloped, and obviously he’s been over four miles at Ayr. We can keep talking about it, but he’s still got to go and do it.”

Tom Scudamore is on the cusp of National glory
Tom Scudamore is on the cusp of National glory (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

With former champion jockey Richard Johnson’s recent retirement Scudamore is now among the elder statesmen in the weighing room – but he insists there is plenty of life left in him.

“There are still a couple older than me, although they won’t like to admit it!” he said.

“Obviously Richard had the most amazing career, but there’s a few years left in me yet.

“It would be nice to win it, though, given he never managed it.”

Scudamore not feeling the weight of National history

Tom Scudamore feels little pressure but maintains complete respect for his forefathers as he aims to emulate their Randox Grand National success aboard Cloth Cap.

Hot favourite and extremely ‘well in’ racing off a stone lower than his current mark, the Jonjo O’Neill-trained nine-year-old staked his claim with victory in the Ladbrokes Trophy before following up with ease at Kelso.

Scudamore was in the saddle on both occasions, and he will be reunited with his mount on April 10 when the race is run behind closed doors for the first time in its history.

The jockey has ridden in the world’s most famous steeplechase 18 times already – but victory has evaded him so far, with a seventh-placed finish aboard Vieux Lion Rogue in 2017 his best result to date.

Scudamore is a rider uniquely placed to understand the significance of it all, though, owing to the exploits of both his father and grandfather in the National.

Cloth Cap and Tom Scudamore clear the last to win the Ladbrokes Trophy
Cloth Cap and Tom Scudamore clear the last to win the Ladbrokes Trophy (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

His grandfather Michael was a winner in 1959 when steering Oxo to victory, and still holds the record for the most consecutive National rides – having lined up at Aintree every season for 16 years.

That victory has become something of a legend in the Scudamore household, with Tom well versed on the varying fortunes of his family over the famed National fences.

“Grandad won it in 1959, and it’s something the whole family is very proud of,” he said.

“Throughout all that myself and my dad have achieved, wherever we went he was always ‘Michael Scudamore – who won the Grand National’.

“We’d talk about it over Sunday lunches when I was a kid, we’d devote hours to talking about Grand Nationals.

“Grandad rode in 16 consecutive races, which I still think is a record; dad rode in it 13 or 14 times.

“I listened to the story of every single ride. I could tell you about every single ride dad had in it, and every single ride grandad had in it, and their characteristics and how they got on – it was an enormous part of my childhood.”

Michael’s son, Tom’s father Peter, was never able to win the big race throughout an illustrious career which saw him crowned champion jockey eight times and enjoy success in numerous other coveted contests.

Tom Scudamore's grandfather, Michael
Tom Scudamore’s grandfather, Michael (PA)

Michael and Peter then teamed up upon the latter’s retirement from the saddle and bought a bay gelding named Earth Summit, who was later sold and trained by Nigel-Twiston Davies, to whom Peter acted as assistant trainer and business partner.

After winning the Scottish and Welsh versions of the Grand National and also taking the Peter Marsh Chase, Earth Summit was an 11-length winner of the 1998 Aintree contest and provided a teenage Tom Scudamore with his first experience of what National success means.

“Growing up, dad was obviously associated with Nigel Twiston-Davies – and before that I’d go year after year and watch dad in the National, which would ultimately end up in disappointment,” he said.

“The year Earth Summit won it, I just remember that being absolute bedlam.

“That was my first realisation – I was always aware of what a great race the National was. But to go and win it, and witness everything that follows, that just absolutely blew my mind.

“I’d have been 13 or 14 at the time, and just the whole jamboree was not like anything I could have imagined, particularly after seeing all of the disappointment that we’d gone through.

“Seeing Earth Summit win it, grandad and dad having bought him and obviously played a massive part in his training, that was a fantastic memory.”

Peter then enjoyed further success in the race in 2017 when he and his partner Lucinda Russell, to whom he is assistant trainer, struck gold with 14-1 chance One For Arthur in 2017.

Earth Summit en route to victory in the 1998 Grand National
Earth Summit en route to victory in the 1998 Grand National (Rui Vieira/PA)

Despite being the next of the Scudamore dynasty to take up the mantle, Tom does not feel unduly pressured by the success of his family – nor is he troubled by the expectations which come with partnering the favourite for the race.

“The only pressure is the pressure I put on myself. I obviously want to win, but there’s lots of races I want to win,” he said.

“I don’t feel any pressure in that respect.

“I’d much rather be on the favourite than go under the radar on one of the outsiders.

“He’s the favourite for a reason, and it’s a very good reason. Hopefully he can justify that.

“It’s a lovely position to be in – it’s a great privilege.”

Cloth Cap’s owner, Trevor Hemmings, is as well acquainted with the race as the Scudamore family – having enjoyed three Grand National successes with Hedgehunter (2005), Ballabriggs (2011) and Many Clouds (2015).

Trevor Hemmings (right) celebrates after victory in the Grand National with Many Clouds
Trevor Hemmings (right) celebrates after victory in the Grand National with Many Clouds (Mike Egerton/PA)

Those three victories make Hemmings one of the most successful owners in the race, with another win set to distinguish him from the likes of Red Rum’s owner Noel Le Mare and Gigginstown House Stud – whose silks were carried to victory once by Rule The World and twice by Tiger Roll.

“Mr Hemmings is no stranger to National glory, and he (Cloth Cap) was probably bought with Aintree in mind,” added Scudamore.

“It goes without saying what a tremendous supporter of National Hunt racing he’s been.

“He deserves every success, and it would be an honour to follow in those footsteps and try to win it for him for a fourth time.”

Hemmings is an owner who has clearly always cherished the Grand National, an estimation Scudamore shares with regards to his own career accomplishments.

“It would be the pinnacle of my career up to that point,” he said.

“It’s the race I’ve always wanted to be involved with, and growing up it’s the race I’ve always wanted to win the most.

Tom Scudamore aboard Vieux Lion Rouge (left) in the 2017 Grand National
Tom Scudamore aboard Vieux Lion Rouge (left) in the 2017 Grand National (David Davies/PA)

“It doesn’t add any more pressure on, but it’s a race I’ve spent my whole career trying to win – it would be the pinnacle as far as I’m concerned.”

Although Cloth Cap will be encountering the Aintree track for the first time, Scudamore is more familiar than most with the challenges posed by the Canal Turn and Becher’s Brook, and hopes to draw on that experience as he tackles the course once more aboard a horse that would be a hugely popular winner.

“I learnt plenty off Vieux Lion Rouge, who is a real National expert and who has jumped more National fences than just about any other horse in history,” he said.

“I haven’t been in a position to really crack it yet, but I’ve had a few good rides. Hopefully, I’m due an even better one.

“There are plenty of dangers. You have got to be very respectful of Kimberlite Candy, who seems to have been campaigned with this race in mind, Ted Walsh’s horse (Any Second Now) was very impressive in Ireland the other day and there will be plenty of horses with a chance, but I’ll be focusing on Cloth Cap.

“If the handicapper could have his say again we would be 14lb higher, so that is a lovely position to be in. It is such a high quality race that you have to respect any horse that meets the criteria and gets a run.”

Scudamore on Festival fall-out: We’ve got to go out and get it right

Tom Scudamore believes it is “deeds that matter” as British National Hunt racing continues its analysis of last week’s disappointing Cheltenham Festival.

The home side narrowly avoided a whitewash in the Cotswolds, with Irish runners winning 23 of the 28 races across the four days.

While trainers such as Harry Fry and Dan Skelton have conceded the superiority of the raiding party, plenty of figures in the industry have offered opinions as to how British racing should respond to the Irish domination.

Minella Indo led home an Irish one-two-three in the Gold Cup
Minella Indo led home an Irish one-two-three in the Gold Cup (Michael Steele/PA)

With British and Irish riders in separate changing rooms due to Covid protocols, Scudamore admits the mood was pretty low in the weighing room – with only Nico de Boinville, Ryan Mania, Nick Scholfield and Lorcan Williams striking gold on home-trained runners.

However, Scudamore – who is all set to partner Grand National favourite Cloth Cap at Aintree next month – thinks actions are more important than words moving forward.

He said: “It’s never a barrel of laughs when you’re getting beaten, but we’re all professional enough that from my point of view, I was just concentrating on my own thing.

“When you’re not riding winners, you’re not as much fun to be around. There was one corner of my weighing room that was a bit happier than the rest of us – in Nico’s (de Boinville) corner.

Shishkin was a rare British-trained winner at Cheltenham last week
Shishkin was a rare British-trained winner at Cheltenham last week (David Davies/Jockey Club)

“We felt the same as every other British person involved in racing. We well and truly had our backsides tanked and it’s up to us to go out and change it. There’s no point in complaining or moaning, it’s just a case of going out and getting it right.

“Last week was a lesson to everybody that we’ve got a lot of catching up to do. It’s the way it is, there’s no point in complaining.

“There can be plenty of talking about it, but it’s deeds that matter and we’ve all got to pull our socks up.”

Scudamore keeping his cool ahead of Cloth Cap’s National mission

Tom Scudamore is determined to contain his excitement for the next five weeks after the “tremendous” performance which has given Cloth Cap a stranglehold on the Randox Grand National market.

Scudamore’s grandfather Michael was a Grand National winner on Oxo 62 years ago – but his father, eight-time champion jockey Peter, was then luckless in the Aintree showpiece throughout his career.

Scudamore himself has also yet to win the race – with a best finishing position of sixth, on perennial contender Vieux Lion Rouge in 2017 – while Cloth Cap’s owner Trevor Hemmings will be bidding for a record-breaking fourth success next month, and trainer Jonjo O’Neill has his own Aintree history, including Don’t Push It’s 2010 victory.

Cloth Cap has all of them dreaming, having followed up his Ladbrokes Trophy romp in November with an all-the-way success too in Saturday’s bet365 Premier Chase at Kelso.

His jockey is, however, doing his best to stay focused on what he can control – on April 10 in Liverpool, and through the intervening weeks too.

“It would be great,” Scudamore said, at the prospect of winning the National.

“But you’re trying not to get too carried away. There’s plenty of racing in between – a big week at Cheltenham coming up, for starters.

“I wouldn’t be one to get carried away too far with it – we’ll just get on, go and do the business as best we can.”

There was no hiding his delight, though, at Cloth Cap’s Kelso performance – triumphing by more than seven lengths over just short of three miles, and making a mockery of official ratings which suggested he should instead have finished last of five.

“It was a tremendous prep run – a nice race in its own right, and he beat some very good horses,” Scudamore added.

“Obviously we had a bit to find at the weights. But he did it very well, and at this stage he’s a worthy favourite (for the National).”

Cloth Cap has demonstrated significant improvement since three new factors coincided at Newbury – where Scudamore rode him for the first time, on his preferred good ground, with a switch to front-running tactics.

“The handicapper’s going to have his say on Tuesday, and if the weights were done again we’d be carrying a lot more,” Scudamore said, of a horse nestling on 10st 5lb next month.

“We’ll know more on Tuesday. But obviously it’s a lovely position to be in – we’re going to be ahead of the handicapper.

“But there’s still a fair time to go. A lot can change – we’re still five, six weeks away.”

He is mindful that others could yet prove they too are well-handicapped.

Santini is among those who could be taking on Cloth Cap at Aintree
Santini is among those who could be taking on Cloth Cap at Aintree (Julian Herbert/PA)

“Who knows, if Santini wins the Gold Cup by half the track, then he might be better in than us!” Scudamore added.

“But from Cloth Cap’s point of view, he can’t have done any more.”

He acknowledges that conditions will be important, but was pleased with how the nine-year-old adapted to comparative ease in the ground this weekend.

“It was good ground at Newbury,” said Scudamore.

“(But) the ground was soft enough yesterday, quite tacky, and he’s handled that fine.

“Obviously, you’d want nice ground for the National – but we’re not in control of those things.

“Jonjo and everybody at Jackdaws (Castle) had him in fine fettle, and they know what it takes.”

Jonjo O’Neill is already a Grand National-winning trainer
Jonjo O’Neill is already a Grand National-winning trainer (David Davies/PA)

He is playing down his own contribution so far too – and credits O’Neill with the decision to ride the 2019 Scottish Grand National third prominently for the first time.

“That was down to Jonjo really,” said Scudamore.

“He just said ‘he jumps and he stays’. Both times he’s been able to go a gallop, and he can maintain it – he’s obviously got form over four miles, from the Scottish National.

“Jonjo thinks the horse has matured an awful lot in the last year.

“I was very lucky to be in the right place at the right time (to pick up the ride with Richie McLernon unavailable at Newbury), and it’s worked out, so I’m very grateful to connections for that.

“Everyone at Jackdaws has done all the hard work.”

Remastered engineers Reynoldstown triumph

Remastered put in an exemplary jumping display to make every yard of the running for trainer David Pipe and jockey Tom Scudamore in the Grade Two Bateaux London Reynoldstown Novices’ Chase at Ascot.

The 9-2 winner is likely to head to the National Hunt Chase or Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase at next month’s Cheltenham Festival – for which he is respectively 20-1 (from 33) and 25-1 (from 33) with Paddy Power.

Remastered appeared to face a major threat from 5-2 favourite Demachine rounding the home turn, but Pipe’s front-runner found extra to score by four lengths.

Scudamore was suitably impressed, and said: “He jumped superbly all the way round, and fences have made a real man of him.

“He’s unbeaten over fences and has really taken to them. He’s got plenty of options at Cheltenham. He’s only run once there before, but that was over hurdles and a couple of years ago.”

Second-favourite Sevarano pulled up in the early stages – while Kalooki looked dangerous until hitting the final ditch, four out, and then fading to finish a distant third.

Sadly, Sevarano suffered a fatal injury – confirmed via Twitter by the Oliver Sherwood stable.

A tweet read: “We are all devastated to lose Sevarano today @ascot_races. He had the world at his feet. He was such a lovely laid-back gentleman who didn’t deserve his life to end this way. Thank you for all your wonderful memories.”

In the opening greatbritishstallionshowcase.co.uk Novices’ Hurdle, the market told the story as Midnight River usurped Gallyhill as favourite – and then got the better of that rival in a rousing finish.

One True King made a bold attempt to lead throughout, but a mistake at the penultimate flight set him back – leaving 5-4 shot Midnight River and Harry Skelton to beat Gallyhill and Nico de Boinville by a length and a half.

Harry Skelton and Midnight River (left) jump the last
Harry Skelton and Midnight River (left) jump the last (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

After riding another winner for his brother Dan, Skelton said: “He’s a horse we’ve always liked, with a good attitude.

“He used to be a bit free but has been taught to settle, and I think the best is yet to come because he’s a three-mile chaser of the future.

“We might look at Cheltenham, and certainly Aintree, but fences are the main objective.”

The Skeltons completed a double when Captain Chaos made virtually all the running in the ‘My Oddsboost’ On Betfair Swinley Limited Handicap Chase.

Harry Skelton after riding Captain Chaos to victory
Harry Skelton after riding Captain Chaos to victory (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Accompanied by Cobolobo for three-quarters of the three-mile journey, the 10-1 winner shook off the attentions of that rival turning for home, but in the end was all out to hold the late rally of Regal Encore by a head.

The strongly-supported 3-1 favourite Jerrysback recovered from an early mistake to track the clear leaders, but then lost touch and was pulled up by Richard Johnson.

Harry Skelton praised the accurate jumping of the winner and observed: “He really enjoyed himself and took off again when Jonjo’s (O’Neill jnr, on Cobolobo) horse came back at him. It was a brilliant jumping display and all credit to our superb team who worked so hard during the bad weather.”

A fantastic treble for the Skeltons was achieved in carbon-copy fashion as Shannon Bridge served it up to his foes from the front in the Betfair Cheltenham Free Bet Pot Builder Handicap Hurdle.

Shannon Bridge capped a fine day's work at Ascot for Dan and Harry Skelton
Shannon Bridge capped a fine day’s work at Ascot for Dan and Harry Skelton (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

In the knowledge his mount liked to be competitive, Harry Skelton wasted no time in sending his 12-1 partner to the front and although under strong pressure before two out the eight-year-old kept responding.

He was briefly headed by 80-1 outsider Thibault on the run-in, but instantly regained the initiative to pull two lengths clear.

Skelton observed: “Our owners are great about the way I ride the horses and never stick me down to do one thing or the other. Shannon Bridge likes to get on with it, and the blinkers have helped. He just idled a bit over the last two hurdles, but just as suddenly he took off again.”

Adam West was thrilled with bargain-basement purchase Thibault, saying: “He cost a grand and has been a revelation since we put him back over hurdles. He’s given us another great thrill today.”

There was a sad postscript to the race, with the popular L’Ami Serge quickly pulled up after the sixth flight, having looked to have gone wrong. Yalltari, in the race won by Captain Chaos, was another casualty.

Ascot’s director of racing and public affairs Nick Smith extended his sympathy to all those involved with the three horses.

He said: “It’s always very sad when these things happen, and we extend our sympathy to all the connections.”

Scudamore’s daughter surprised by social media attention following Festival plea

Margot Scudamore, daughter of jump jockey Tom, had no idea a letter she penned out of frustration to Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the likelihood of missing her beloved Kingswell Theatre running at the Cheltenham Festival would cause so much fuss.

Margot, 14, is a budding jump jockey and has ridden Kingswell Theatre at the stables of her uncle, Michael Scudamore.

She had been looking forward to seeing the 12-year-old team up with her father in the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase, albeit on television, but news that the Government has scheduled a return to school on March 8 – the week before the Festival – came as a blow to her hopes.

In her letter, Margot asked the Prime Minister to delay the return by two weeks or allow schools to show the racing on television.

Margot is currently home schooling and her father came across the letter when going through her work. He posted the letter on social media, causing plenty of feedback.

She said: “I’d had a bad day and heard the news that we were going back to school the week before Cheltenham. My godmother asked me what I was going to do about it and I said I was going to write a letter.

“I just wanted to get it all out on paper. I had no idea it would get this big.

“From just being on Twitter and having 30-odd comments, it went to being in the ‘paper.

“I probably won’t be able to go to Cheltenham, so I’ll have my phone under the table.

“All my friends are interested in racing. It’s a great sport because you don’t have to be horsey to be involved. I’ll be back at school on March 8 by look of things, but I don’t think anyone really knows.”

She has ambitions to be a jockey, which comes as no surprise for she is part of the famous Scudamore dynasty. Her great grandfather Michael won the Grand National on Oxo in 1959, her grandfather Peter was champion jump jockey eight times, her father Tom is a leading jump jockey and her uncle Michael a successful jumps trainer.

“I’m not into any education. I’m all into my riding and stuff,” she said.

“I’ve been riding out for almost three years now. I remember I went to Warwick with my dad, I had my bag with me so I decided to go to my uncle’s. The following morning I saw on the board I was down to ride Kingswell Theatre. It was amazing as he had won at Cheltenham not long before.

“He’s been the only one I’ve ever wanted to ride. I’d like to ride him a lot more. He’s very special.

“I ride him every time I go up there. I used to go every other weekend and spend a couple of weeks there in the summer.

“It’s pretty good experience and I’d like to be a conditional jockey for my uncle when I get older.

“Dad wants me to get all my school work done and then do that afterwards hopefully. I would like to go to equine college.”

Margot is already a winner on her brief foray so far on the pony circuit.

“I’ve been able to get on the pony circuit recently, but that has come to a halt at the moment,” she said.

“I only had a couple of rides, but I had a winner on my second ride. My dad’s been a massive help and I’m just waiting for the season to hopefully kickstart again.

“It’s so cool to be involved with a horse like him (Kingswell Theatre). I hope he doesn’t retire yet. He’s still got a lot of life left in him – and so has dad. They both have.”

Her father said: “People seem to have enjoyed it, more so than her! It’s caused a bit of mirth. I’m hoping she gets a zoom call with the Prime Minister!

“She’s home schooling. I was going through her homework and came across the letter along with everything else.”

Royale Pagaille rises to Peter Marsh challenge

Royale Pagaille looks a horse destined for the very top judged on a brilliant display in the Peter Marsh Chase at Haydock.

The French import was beaten on his first two starts for trainer Venetia Williams and leading owner Rich Ricci last season, but appears much improved this winter, with this his third successive victory.

A novice chase success on Merseyside was followed by an emphatic victory on his handicap debut at Kempton over the Christmas period – and even a 16lb hike in the weights to a lofty mark of 156 was nowhere near enough to stop him completing his hat-trick in devastating style.

Initially ridden with restraint by Tom Scudamore, Royale Pagaille jumped and travelled with such fluency that he tanked his way to the from racing down the back straight for the second time.

While most of his rivals had cried enough in the ultra-testing conditions rounding the home turn, Scudamore’s mount was remarkably still full of running – and safely negotiated the remaining obstacles in the straight to score by 16 lengths.

Scudamore said: “To do that in this ground – win off a mark of 156 by 16 lengths – is very impressive. You don’t get too many horses that are able to do that.

“I don’t know him well enough to know if this ground is important to him, but he’s handled it well enough today.

“He’s jumped from fence to fence and travelled so well. He’d got them cooked at the top of the straight.

“It was a huge thrill and a pleasure to be able to ride him today.”

The seven-year-old has several options at the Cheltenham Festival, having been entered for three of the four novice chases, as well as the Cheltenham Gold Cup – for which Coral go as short as 12-1.

Scudamore said: “I’ll leave plans entirely up to Venetia and Rich Ricci. I was just lucky to be able to ride him today.

“He’s a second-season novice. I’ve ridden some very nice novice chases and he’s up there with the best of them.

“Whatever they go for, whether it’s the RSA (now Festival Novices’ Chase), or the Gold Cup or the National Hunt Chase, the world is most certainly his oyster.”

Williams was at Ascot, where she was guarded on a Gold Cup bid, but nevertheless delighted with her charge’s progress.

She said: “I bought him at the Arqana Sale at Deauville in November 2019, and it took me until 12 months later to sell him, and that’s when Rich and Susannah (Ricci) stepped in.

“Looking at the times (at Haydock), I don’t imagine it was too heavy up there – but the handicapper will hike him up again, and it will force me to put him in rare areas near the top.

“This is his third season as a novice chaser, and in the first two he didn’t win, but he’s very progressive now.

“But I was delighted. He’s a perfect example of a horse that’s needed time.

“I can’t say he will definitely go for the Gold Cup, and there will be much discussion before any decisions are reached.”

Adagio strikes Grade One gold with Finale success

Adagio proved too strong for hot favourite Nassalam in the Coral Finale Juvenile Hurdle at Chepstow.

Having won by 59 and 49 lengths respectively on his first two starts in Britain at Fontwell, Gary Moore’s Nassalam was the even-money favourite to complete his hat-trick on his step up to Grade One level.

However, David Pipe’s Adagio also brought strong form to the table – winning two of his first three starts over obstacles, including a short-priced victory at Cheltenham last month.

With long-time lead Bannister beginning to falter from the home turn, it turned into a three-way fight between Nassalam, Adagio and the Paul Nicholls-trained French recruit Houx Gris, before the former pair turned the screw and drew clear.

It was clear on the run to the final flight that Adagio had more to give than the market leader and he galloped all the way to the line to score by two and a half lengths under Tom Scudamore.

Pipe said: “It was a very good performance and the first two were favourite and second-favourite, so it’s rock solid form.

“I think we learnt a lot when he got beaten by Duffle Coat at Cheltenham in November. Last time at Cheltenham we rode him with more restraint and we did again today.

“We hadn’t declared him for this race when it was originally due to be run over Christmas. We came here today hoping it wouldn’t be quite as bad, it’s only soft ground rather than heavy and he’s handled that well.”

Coral cut Adagio to 12-1 for the JCB Triumph Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in March.

Pipe added: “We were coming here today to find out whether we were going for the Triumph Hurdle or the Fred Winter. It will be the Triumph Hurdle now.

“He’s always gone well at home – he’s got an engine. He was a bit quirky early on, but he’s improved since he’s been gelded.

“We’ll see how he comes out of today. Maybe he’ll go straight to Cheltenham, or maybe he’ll have one more run somewhere.

“We’ll enjoy today and have a think about it next week.”

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.

“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.

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.”