Cloth Cap expected to peak for Aintree Grand National bid

Jonjo O’Neill-trained horse the 4-1 shot to take Tiger Roll’s title on Saturday

Cloth Cap is clear favourite to repel a strong Irish challenge in Saturday’s Randox Aintree Grand National.

In Tiger Roll’s absence, the Jonjo O’Neill-trained star is a general 4-1 shot to assume the National crown and restore a little cross-channel pride after last month’s record 23 Irish-trained winners at Cheltenham.

A total of 68 horses were left in the National at Monday’s forfeit stage with, as anticipated, Santini among those to drop out.

Final declarations are on Thursday with a maximum field of 40 and four reserves in the running to take a slot should there be defections before 1pm on Friday.

Connections of the Welsh National hero Secret Reprieve face an anxious wait as the fancied horse is currently number 43 on the list.

Secret Reprieve is one place below the John McConnell-trained Some Neck, although both are weighted on 10.1. It is expected procedures will be put in place later this week for deciding which horses will gain a place in the event of a tie arising.

No such anxieties surround Cloth Cap, who has won the Ladbrokes Trophy already this season and also scored impressively at Kelso last time, a performance that gives him a stone in hand of the handicapper on official ratings.

He will attempt to become a fourth National winner for owner Trevor Hemmings and add to Don't Push It's memorable victory 11 years ago for O'Neill.

Jockey Tom Scudamore has yet to win the world's most famous steeplechase, a race his grandfather Michael won on Oxo in 1956.

However, Scudamore is full of hope that he can accomplish something that eluded his father, Peter, the former multiple champion jockey.

“It looks like he’s the ideal horse and it’s the old cliche that I wouldn’t swap him for anything. If I was riding something else Cloth Cap would be the one I’d want to ride,” Scudamore reported on Monday.

“He stayed four miles-plus in the Scottish National, he’s put up some great performances this year and he’s a stone well in. That all points to him having a great chance.

“But he’s got to go and actually do it. We’ve seen it time and time again before; you can talk as much as you like but you’ve got to go and do it. It’s nice to talk about it, it’s a lovely position to be in, but we’ve got to go and do it,” he added.

Even despite the controversial absence of the dual-National winner Tiger Roll, almost half the top 40 rated horses left in the race are Irish based.

They include a handful from Michael O’Leary’s Gigginstown Stud team who refused to let Tiger Roll take a shot at a historic National hat-trick due to what they insist was “unfair” treatment by the British handicapper.

Instead Tiger Roll is set to line up over Aintree’s Mildmay course on Thursday in the Grade One Betway Bowl.

Willie Mullins’s Burrows Saint, winner of the 2019 Irish National, is a general 8-1 second-best with layers in ante-post betting while Ted Walsh’s Any Second Now is also to the forefront of the betting.

Walsh and his son Ruby memorably landed the National 21 years ago with Papillon. Ruby Walsh was also successful on Mullins's sole National winner to date, Hedgehunter in 2005.

In all there have been 27 Irish-based successes in the Aintree National including Tiger Roll’s back-to-back wins in 2018 and 2019. The first Irish victory was in 1847 with Matthew. The race had to be cancelled last year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

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