THE biggest race of all, the Randox Grand National is just around the corner.
And this time, we have a red-hot favourite in the Jonjo O’Neill-trained Cloth Cap. At 7-2 he’s eye-wateringly short for a race of this nature, but there is good reason…
Let’s start with the obvious one. The horse will run with just 10’5lbs on his back and is officially ‘well-in’.
What does that mean I hear you say. If the weights were done for the race again today, he’d carry a stone more – 11’5lbs.
The National weights are always launched early and once they are official cannot change, whether a horse wins since the release or performs well below-par.
It’s not often you get a horse a stone ‘well in.’ And it explains partly why the bookies are scared of laying anything bigger than 4-1.
Cloth Cap loves good ground and helps to explain his upturn in form this season.
With the big race now less than two weeks away he looks set to get close to his optimal conditions again.
If the rain comes and turns the ground soft, then ‘The Ground’ would quickly fall into the opposing category.
Trainer and Owner
His handler Jonjo O’Neill knows what it takes to win the Aintree showpiece, and other big staying chases for that matter.
O’Neill enjoyed a massive day with Don’t Push It in the 2010 renewal, helping end jockey AP McCoy’s agonising wait for a win in the race.
Meanwhile owner Trevor Hemmings – who also owns Preston North End – is an Aintree regular and the National is often what he aims all his horses at.
Many Clouds was a famous winner of his in 2015, with Hedgehunter striking in 2005 and Ballabriggs in 2011.
Whatever the secret is, Hemmings seems to have it. And this horse Cloth Cap is named after the cap Hemmings wears each morning while eating his breakfast to remind him of his roots.
Cloth Cap likes to make the running out front on his own, but given that 40 runners are to head to post, it would be a minor miracle if he managed to get his own way out front.
Whether the horse can handle pressure on the lead is a big question he has to answer.
There will be a handful of runners trying to go from the front and jockey Tom Scudamore will need to be wise.
As history suggests, favourites often struggle in this race and even those at much bigger prices than the current 7-2 available for Cloth Cap.
If the momentum keeps up he could well go off shorter, too.
Tiger Roll won in 2019 at just 4-1, but he had proven course form having romped home in the same race the season before.
Since 2000, only two clear favourites have won. It’s a race where you need luck in running more than any, and not just over the infamous fences.
At 7-2, the common sense approach is to look elsewhere.
With the likes of Willie Mullins, Henry de Bromhead and ‘Sneezy’ Foster all having multiple darts to fire, Cloth Cap could have his work cut out despite being a stone well-in.
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