“He did his part and I did mine,” Tom Scudamore said after winning the Ladbrokes Trophy – formerly the Hennessy – for a record-equalling third time on Cloth Cap here on Saturday. What Scudamore mainly did, though, was enjoy the experience, as the 9-1 chance produced a series of extravagant leaps to win from the front, eventually crossing the line 10 lengths clear of Aye Right with The Conditional close behind in third.
Cloth Cap was getting weight from all 17 of his opponents, but it was his jumping that made the difference as rivals including Vinndication, the 15-2 joint-favourite, could do no more than try to keep the leader within striking distance over the first two miles.
Vinndication was still going well when a bad mistake at the fifth-last left David Bass with no hope of staying in the saddle, and when Cloth Cap flew the next, at the top of the straight, it was suddenly clear that his lead was a winning one. He was equally quick and fluent up the straight, looking every inch a Grand National prospect if, as tends to be the case, the going is good at Aintree in the spring.
“When he winged the first ditch, I was thinking I could be in for quite a thrill here,” Scudamore said, “and so it turned out. It’s the first time he has really had his ground since he was placed in the Scottish National.
“Jonjo [O’Neill, Cloth Cap’s trainer] is just about the best trainer of staying chasers there is. Dad [former champion jockey Peter] and Jonjo go back a long way, so I’m pleased to be able to reward his faith with a winner.
“Growing up, we always felt this was one of the classic races. To come out and win it again is a great thrill, it’s one of the best races on probably the best course to ride.”
O’Neill, like Scudamore, emphasised the importance of better ground for Cloth Cap, who was cut to around 25-1 for the Grand National.
“See the way he jumps when he gets good ground,” he said, “that’s the key to him, really. He will go up a few pounds probably, but he’s a good ground horse, and on good ground we wouldn’t be frightened of running him [at Aintree]”
12.10 Applaus 12.47 Cheddleton 1.20 Gaston Phebus 1.50 Happy Diva (nb) 2.20 Rock On Fruity 2.50 Rath An Iuir 3.22 Aviewtosea
12.20 Opine 12.56 Indian Harbour 1.28 Chef De Troupe 1.58 Midnight River 2.28 Two Taffs 2.58 Doyen Dancer 3.31 Capricia
12.38 Bear Ghylls 1.12 Desque De L'Isle 1.42 Nocte Volatus (nap) 2.12 Equus Dancer 2.42 Caviciana 3.13 Lex Talionis 3.50 Ragamuffin
At Newcastle, Epatante, the reigning champion hurdler, was a comfortable winner of the Betfair Fighting Fifth Hurdle, a race in which much of the drama occurred in the early stages.
Not So Sleepy jinked at the first flight and unseated Paddy Brennan, then carried out Silver Streak, the third-favourite, at the second. Sceau Royal led for much of the way but Epatante clearly had his measure approaching the final flight and eased ahead on the run-in for a four-and-a-quarter length win.
Epatante is 6-4 favourite (from 11-4) for the Champion Hurdle with Ladbrokes, while Monkfish is the new clear favourite for the RSA Chase in March after an impressive winning debut over fences at Fairyhouse.