On Saturday afternoon, Cloth Cap will seek a date with destiny in the Grand National under Tom Scudamore.
Jonjo O’Neill’s charge heads the top of the bill following bloodless Newbury and Kelso wins this season, respectively, with all roads now leading to Merseyside.
And his rider is excited about his chances in National Hunt’s biggest stage, which will take place for the first time in over two years following last season’s cancellation due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Scudamore’s first career win arrived back in 2000 and he has gone onto record more than 1,300 in the saddle since – with a National success sure to be a welcome addition to victories in the King George, Stayers’ Hurdle, Arkle and Long Walk.
The Gloucestershire pilot talks to aintree.co.uk about the best advice he has received, his Aintree hopes in 2021 and the influence Rachael Blackmore’s Cheltenham Festival success two weeks ago provided for his daughters.
You rode Thistlecrack eighteen times in his career, winning ten races, including five grade ones. How special was he when you look back?
He was very special. So far, he is the best horse I’ve ever ridden and I was very lucky to get on him. He was a great privilege to ride and the day he won around Aintree the second time was his best performance over hurdles. He was a different class to other horses that day – I’ve never ridden an easier winner in a Grade One. He was just a phenomenal racehorse.
You are a third-generation jockey, with your Father Peter and Grandfather Michael both taking up careers in the saddle. What’s the best advice you’ve ever received from them?
Simple: keep a leg either side and your head off the floor.
What does The Grand National mean to you?
In my view, it’s the greatest race of all – it’s so important to racing. It’s the only race we have that, regardless of what’s going on in the world at the time, everyone stops to watch it. It’s been an enormous part of my life and I feel very lucky to have ridden in it, and to continue to ride in it, so I’m very fortunate.
Cloth Cap looks a worthy favourite for The Grand National, after his Ladbrokes Trophy and recent Kelso success. How do you rate his chance at Aintree?
He has to have an outstanding chance, on what he’s achieved this year but also if the handicapper could do the weights again, would have him 14lbs higher. I think he’ll handle the course – it’s his first time around Aintree but the trip should be fine and he’s certainly got more going for him than against him, and it’s an exciting ride to have.
You will be riding in the Grand National for the 19th time in your career, describe the feeling of walking down the steps to the parade ring to ride in The Grand National?
I try not to treat it any different to any other race. You’re getting a thrill and it’s a privilege to be involved in, but you’re just treating it the same as normal – as difficult as this may be at times.
Which Grand National has been the most memorable for you?
Growing up, it would have been Earth Summit in 1998. My grandfather and father bought him as a store horse, and they were both heavily involved at Nigel Twiston-Davies’s at the time which is where I spent time growing up, so this was my best National memory so far.
Favourite racecourse and why?
It would be a toss up between Exeter and Newbury – both very fair tracks and they’re great for novices’ and handicappers alike, so they would be my two favourite courses.
Your daughter Margot recently wrote to Prime Minister Boris Johnson to get the week off school to watch Cheltenham. As a young aspiring female jockey, how much did she enjoy Rachel Blackmore’s success?
Margot loved watching Rachael Blackmore having a great week and so did my other daughter, Myrtle. What Rachael’s gone and achieved has been fantastic and she is a role model for the sport – certainly for the girls, they absolutely adore her. The way she conducts herself in and out of the saddle, she’s a superstar and deserves all the plaudits she gets.
What’s been the best day in the saddle to date?
It would either be winning the King George on Thistlecrack or winning a race at the Cheltenham Festival for my brother Michael. I’ve had lots of good days – riding 100 winners for the first time was also very special but anytime you achieve a landmark success, they’re all hard to differentiate between.
Describe Pond House to someone that’s never been?
For Roald Dahl fans – it’s like Willie Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. The history and everything they’ve achieved down there, it’s second to none – especially with the facilities that they have.