By any measurement, trainer Jonjo O’Neill has been going through a lean period over the last couple of seasons. From the dizzying heights of third place in the Trainer Championship in the 2009-10 season to a 20th place finish in the 2018-19 season, there have been plenty of ups and downs for the team at Jackdaws Castle. Thankfully this season could see O’Neill back to his winning ways.
“When you lose the good horses they leave a big hole and when the young horses don’t fill their place, you lapse for a year or two,” O’Neill said.
So with that in mind, O’Neill has had a massive injection of new horses at the yard, many of which were paraded at his recent owner’s day.
“We have about 40 four-year-olds and they’re lovely horses, with new owners,” he added.
“It’s a whole new system here and it’s so exciting.
“We’ll take our time with them but in the next three to five years I think we’re in for a great time.”
And while he may be planning long term, there is no doubt that the big racing events are still at the front of his mind. The Grand National 2020, in particular, is a major target. This year O’Neill looks set to saddle Cloth Cap for the Aintree spectacular.
The Trevor Hemmings owned seven-year-old finished third in last season’s Scottish National. Ridden by Richie McLernon, he ran the four miles in fine form despite the fact that he only switched from hurdles to chases six months earlier.
From his four chases to date he has won two and finished third in the other two. All were run on good ground with weights ranging from 10-00 to 11-10 so he certainly isn’t troubled by the heavier weights. Though I must point out when he carried more weight, it was in the shorter races of around 2m5f. That said, O’Neill is optimistic about his potential Grand National 2020 chances.
“We’re a long way from the National but he’s going the right way,” said O’Neill. “He likes good ground and is a grand jumper. He’ll need to win a couple of good races first to get his handicap up but Aintree might be where we’re heading.”
Cloth Cap has another run at Chepstow lined up on October 12th in the Native River Handicap Chase. That will be run over 2m7f and will mark his seasonal return. Another could run in that race and horse racing bookies will be quick to look at his National odds. They currently stand at around 66/1 ante-post. However, there is still plenty of time for Cloth Cap to show his worth and generate some buzz.
His current official rating is on the low side at 137 but that can be boosted over the next couple of months. O’Neill said “Obviously Trevor would like him to be a Grand National horse and so would we, but he needs to win a few races to get into that bracket.
“He is an unassuming horse and would never do anything flashy at home, but he is a grand, honest horse. He jumped grand in the Scottish National.”
O’Neill added: “I’d say he wants the ground quicker and that would be the only thing we have to keep an eye on through the winter.”
So if Jonjo O’Neill can keep Cloth Cap fit and injury-free he could be just the ticket the yard needs to get back to it’s winning ways. Keep an eye on him over the next few months and you may even be able to scoop a decent ante-post bet!