Trainer Jonjo O’Neill has had his fair share of success in the Grand National. Winning the race for the first time in 2010 with Don’t Push It, he has always managed to saddle up some great prospects. And 2021 will be no different.
This year his big hopeful looks likely to be Cloth Cap. Owned by Trevor Hemmings, he is bidding for a fourth win in the race having previously won it with Many Clouds (2015), Ballabriggs (2011), and Hedgehunter (2005). Will he add yet another trophy to the collection on Saturday, April 10th 2021?
That all depends on a number of factors. First and foremost Cloth Cap has to get an entry. That looks like a foregone conclusion with O’Neill stating “The plan remains to go for the Grand National and hopefully we can get a race into him before then.
“Trevor (Hemmings, owner) is keen to go for the National as it was the plan last year, but it obviously didn’t happen.”
So first hurdle jumped, and Cloth Cap gets an entry.
Cloth Cap Weight
The next obstacle will be the weight allocated by the BHA Handicapper in February. Of course, as we don’t know which other potential runners will get an entry, we don’t know for sure how much weight Cloth Cap can expect to get.
In November 2020 Cloth Cap was rated 136. Fast forward to January 2021 and following a win in the Ladbrokes Trophy Chase, that has now bumped him up to 147. That would ordinarily put him around 10-01 in the weights (based on the 2020 handicapping).
It’s a very winnable weight however, it would mean playing the waiting game. Historically, horses on the lower weights are dependant on the runners further up the list getting withdrawn. And that could prove to be the case for Cloth Cap.
That said, the handicapper may take into account the latest big win and give him a couple of extra pounds. We will know more in mid-February.
Cloth Cap Current Form
It really does pay to be a horse on good form when it comes to the Grand National. We’ve seen it time and again that those with a decent prep season under their belt tend to do better.
So far this season Cloth Cap has had two chase runs. The first was at Cheltenham in November where he finished third to West Approach (2nd) and the winner, Frodon.
Cloth Cap and @tommyscu winning today.
Thank you for all of your lovely messages, I’m trying my best to respond to them!
Congratulations once again to Trevor Hemmings. pic.twitter.com/1v19w6NZkI
— Jonjo O'Neill (@JonjoONeill) November 28, 2020
From there he headed to Newbury for the Ladbrokes Trophy Chase. Winning by a margin of 10L, he beat out tough opposition such as Aye Right and The Conditional, both of which are also likely to head to the Grand National.
Following that race O’Neill said: “He has been put up 11lb, but he won well in the Ladbrokes Trophy and jumped great.
“He only had 10st that day and everything was right for him.”
Stamina And Jumping Ability
There is no doubting, based on recent performances, that Cloth Cap has stamina and great jumping ability. A third-place finished, over 4m in the 2019 Scottish National, ticks another box.
Newbury highlighted his jumping form. He absolutely flew around the course and his leap four out really was a thing of beauty. And not content with a perfect round of jumping, he still had more fuel in tank pulling away from his rivals, beating them by a country mile.
That race was run on Good Going and connections will be hoping for more of the same at Aintree.
Citing it as a potential worry O’Neill said: “I wouldn’t be worried about him not staying, but the ground is very important to him.
“The only problem with the Grand National is that he might not get the ground as quick as it was in the Ladbrokes Trophy.”
In 2018 the going for the Grand National was deemed Heavy. This improved slightly for 2019 when it went Good/Soft. In case you’re wondering, neither of those would really suit Cloth Cap.
That said, any type of quick ground would improve his chances greatly.
Odds On Winning
Like a lot of potential runners who have shown some Grand National promise over the last year, ante-post odds on Cloth Cap are relatively low on 20/1. Except them to drop further when the official list is revealed. And when the weights come out!
If he looks very favorable compared to others at the top of the betting market, the tipsters will be all over him. As it stands he is joint second-favorite with four others.
Can Cloth Cap win the 2021 Grand National? He certainly ticks a lot of boxes. Could be a dark horse if he continues his run of good form.