In the final race of St Patrick’s Thursday at the 2020 Cheltenham Festival, an eight-year-old gelding by the name of Cloth Cap was making headway to challenge the leading pack in the Kim Muir Challenge Cup.
Approaching two out, the late momentum from the then eight-year-old began to fade. The enthusiasm pouring from jockey Richard Deegan was having no effect on the gelding and he started to weaken from the few left in front.
Carrying the famous Trevor Hemmings silks, he stayed at one pace approaching the finishing line, looking tired as he just about held on at the line to finish in eighth place.
He weakened once again on his seasonal reappearance at Prestbury Park in October, this time when taking on Frodon in a handicap chase.
Even with regular jockey Richie McLernon back in the saddle and a 26lb difference in weight than his rival, he was unable to get on terms with the National Hunt favourite, finishing 15 ½ lengths behind the King George VI Chase winner.
Another season of close calls was potentially on the cards for Jonjo O’Neill’s gelding, until a newfound jockey partnership seemed to revitalise him.
With Cloth Cap occupying the bottom weight in Ladbrokes Trophy in November, Tom Scudamore was hired for the ride at Newbury.
It looked a match made in heaven, with O’Neill’s runner making all and producing an impeccable round of jumping.
Vinndication was first to throw down a challenge before blundering and unseating his rider at five out, while Aye Right and The Conditional’s attempting bids were firmly pushed away.
Cloth Cap flew away in the closing stages, eventually winning by 10 lengths and leaving punters wondering what is next for the gelding.
The question was answered pretty quickly by trainer O’Neill, who stated his intentions post-race.
“We’ve been trying to get the horse rated high enough to run in the National and he’s probably done that now.”
His price was slashed from 66/1 to 25/1 for the Grand National after that contest, with his target for the season now very clear.
After three months away from the track, Cloth Cap made his eagerly-awaited return in the Listed bet365 Premier Chase, his final prep run before Aintree.
The partnership with Tom Scudamore was to continue, as the jockey was booked to ride him once again.
His reintroduction came only days after the announcement that dual Grand National winner Tiger Roll would be withdrawn by his Gigginstown owners, due to a weight dispute.
It blew the April contest wide open, with Cloth Cap throwing his name into the hat with a cracking performance at Kelso.
From the off, the nine-year-old took the lead and produced a high standard of slick jumping, keeping his rivals at bay.
He continued to travel well before pulling clear of Aso and Two For Gold in the home straight, winning by 7 ½ lengths.
Cloth Cap launched to the top of the Grand National betting, being cut to a price of 6/1 generally.
His price has continued to be nibbled at, with the nine-year-old now as short as 4/1 in some places.
Can Cloth Cap justify his favouritism in the Grand National? He falls into several of the winnings trends in recent years.
21 of the last 28 winners were between the age of 8-10, while 10 of the last 12 winners were making their first start in the race.
The last six winners had never fallen or had fallen once, which Cloth Cap has done once back in April 2018.
16 of the last 21 winners were also Irish-bred, which is where the nine-year-old hails from.
He stands a real chance if the trends are anything to base off, and Cloth Cap could be the fourth horse to win the contest in Trevor Hemmings’ famous green and yellow silks, joining Hedgehunter, Ballabriggs and the late Many Clouds.
With the Grand National Festival only a couple of weeks away, all eyes are now on Jonjo O’Neill talent to conclude an incredible rise to the top with victory in this year’s Grand National.