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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!”

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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.”

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.”

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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.

Hemmings banking on Cloth Cap for victory in ‘Wembley of all races’

Trevor Hemmings believes Cloth Cop represents his best chance of claiming a record fourth victory in the Randox Grand National.

The Isle of Man-based businessman is the joint most successful owner in the history of the world’s most famous steeplechase, having struck Aintree gold with Hedgehunter (2005), Ballabriggs (2011) and Many Clouds (2015).

The 85-year-old would dearly love to claim another victory on April 10.

“The Grand National is the ultimate in my life as far I am concerned,” said Hemmings.

“I built a holiday village next to where Ginger McCain used to bring Red Rum, the beach at Ainsdale. As a result of that and working with Fred Pontin (owner of 1971 Grand National winner Specify), I had to work the weekend Fred won the Grand National and that also captured me. I had to finish the holiday village at Ainsdale and he went off for the weekend and won the Grand National with Specify.

“If you look at the blue riband, which is the Cheltenham Gold Cup, it is probably the ultimate in the UK. If you look at the Grand National, which is worldwide – it’s the Wembley of all of racing.

“That’s why I cherish Liverpool and that wonderful few days you can have in Grand National week.”

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Hemmings considers his first National success with the Willie Mullins-trained Hedgehunter as the highlight of his racing life.

Hedgehunter won the Grand National under Ruby Walsh
Hedgehunter won the Grand National under Ruby Walsh (David Davies/PA)

He added: “My most precious moment is winning the Grand National in what I call the old stadium – the previous winner’s enclosure to what is used today.

“The history of all that had happened before was still in that winner’s enclosure. I was there with Willie and Jackie Mullins, Willie’s father Paddy and mother Maureen and his son Patrick, who we know now as a grown, mature jockey, but was a kid back then.

“I will remember the passion of everybody.”

The Jonjo O’Neill-trained Cloth Cap emerged as a leading National contender with victory in the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury in November.

On a rating of 148, the nine-year-old is on a weight of 10st 5lb – and Betway make him a 16-1 co-favourite along with dual National hero Tiger Roll and Kimberlite Candy.

Hemmings could also be represented by Lake View Lad, winner of the Grade Two Many Clouds Chase over the Mildmay Course at Aintree in December, and Deise Aba, who returned to form when landing a handicap chase at Sandown Park on February 6.

“Of my three entries this year, Cloth Cap would look to have the best chance,” said Hemmings.

“We have two that should be in the race as they are number 13 (Lake View Lad) and number 46 (Cloth Cap) I think in the list. It usually goes down to about 80 to get a run and Deise Aba is 71. All being well, they should get in.

“Catherine, who looks after my business, came up with the name Cloth Cap. Everybody knows me in this cloth cap, although I have had to change it as my last one had a hole in it!”

Hemmings recently received his first Covid-19 vaccination, and added: “I was vaccinated at the end of last month and am due another a week from now. It is an easy thing to do and everybody should it – nobody wants to miss out on the chance of living longer.”

Cloth Cap (white cap) on his way to winning the Ladbrokes Trophy
Cloth Cap (white cap) on his way to winning the Ladbrokes Trophy (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

O’Neill has high hopes for Cloth Cap, saying: “I am very happy with him. The important thing for him is the ground. He needs good ground, so I hope they run out of water there!

“We were planning this last year really, but it didn’t happen. Unfortunately he just didn’t perform the way that we had hoped he would, but this year he came back in great form.

“He jumps and he stays well so the Grand National is the obvious race to go for.

“He has 10st 5lb, which is a really nice weight, and Trevor loves the race.

“We are hoping to get a prep race into him either at Kempton or Doncaster.”

Petit Mouchoir heading to Elliott after Gigginstown sale

Dual Grade One-winning hurdler Petit Mouchoir will move to Gordon Elliott’s yard after being sold as part of the annual Gigginstown House Stud dispersal at the Goffs UK September Sale.

Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary, who announced last year that he was scaling back his racing operations, sent a large team of horses to be sold without reserve at Doncaster on Tuesday.

The undoubted star of the squad was the nine-year-old Petit Mouchoir – the winner of five races since joining Henry de Bromhead, including the 2017 Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown.

While winless in almost three years, the grey has been running well in defeat in 2020, finishing placed behind then stablemate Honeysuckle in the Irish Champion Hurdle in February, fifth in the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham and third in the Galway Hurdle last time out.

Petit Mouchoir will return to Ireland after being knocked down to bloodstock agent Mouse O’Ryan and Elliott for £70,000.

“He’s been bought for an existing owner in the yard,” said O’Ryan.

“We (Elliott) actually had him as a four-year-old, when he won the Land Rover Bumper at Punchestown.

“He’s a star and as long as he stays safe and sound, he’ll be able to go for all those big races on a Sunday in Ireland.

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“He’ll aimed at the Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown in November.”

Gordon Elliott will receive some new recruits
Gordon Elliott will receive some new recruits (PA)

O’Ryan also bought the Gigginstown trio of Cuneo (£7,000), Or Jaune De Somoza (£24,000) and Fierami (£11,500), with all three moving to Elliott’s yard from De Bromhead’s.

Reflecting on the day as a whole, O’Ryan added: “I thought it was a very good trade. A lot of people have been giving out, but I think the trade has been brilliant, considering we’re in the middle of a pandemic. All credit to Doncaster for getting it on.”

Another Gigginstown-owned veteran to go under the hammer was De Bromhead’s 11-year-old Sub Lieutenant, who was bought by David Phelan on behalf of an unnamed client for £50,000.

Phelan said: “I’ve bought him for a friend with a view to him running in the Grand Sefton at Aintree and possibly ending up in the Grand National next year.

“He’s been second over the National fences in the Topham and ran a good race last time to finish second in the Galway Blazers.

“Horses like him don’t come along very often – you can sometimes pay £50,000 for a store horse who’ll never make the track.”

Grade One-winning hurdler and dual chase victor Mengli Khan, meanwhile, was bought out of Elliott’s yard for £65,000 by Highflyer Bloodstock’s David Minton.

An even bigger team of around 50 horses went through the ring for three-time Grand National-winning owner Trevor Hemmings.

The 85-year-old has been one of National Hunt racing’s most successful owners during a 36-year spell in the sport, but confirmed last month he was significantly reducing the number of horses he has in training, citing the impact of coronavirus on his personal life and business interests as a major factor.

The top lot from the Gleadhill House Stud dispersal was Stoney Mountain, who won six races in the Hemmings silks for trainer Henry Daly, including the Grade Three Stayers’ Handicap Hurdle at Haydock last November.

Leading bloodstock agent Tom Malone went to £140,000 to secure the seven-year-old services, and said: “He’s going into training with Jamie Snowden for a new owner in Anita Gillies and her husband.

Stoney Mountain (centre) is to join Jamie Snowden's yard
Stoney Mountain (centre) is to join Jamie Snowden’s yard (Anthony Devlin/PA)

“He’s a Grade Three-winning hurdler already, so he’s been there and done it. He’s a very likeable horse and should make up into a lovely novice chaser, hopefully.”

He added: “The trade has been extremely strong – I think this industry is nearly shatterproof.

“People are still willing to spend money, they still want to go racing and they’re still looking for Grade One horses, which is great.”

Trainer Donald McCain bought the high-class Mount Mews for £16,000. A Grade Two winner over hurdles for the late Malcolm Jefferson, McCain has trained Mount Mews for Hemmings for the past couple of seasons.

Burbank – a high-class performer for Hemmings and trainer Nicky Henderson – was snapped up by Jimmy Moffatt for £62,000.