29 November 2020
Back in November 1998 at Newton Abbot a horse prophetically called Young Thruster gave a 16-year-old schoolboy his first win over jumps. Twenty-three years later a now very seasoned Tom Scudamore won his third Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury with a brilliant frontrunning ride on a horse sporting the name of owner Trevor Hemmings’s habitual headgear in Cloth Cap.
The race has long been part of galloping history and this winner brought three very famous strands together. Hemmings is 85 now and while he has understandably cut back on the horses he has in training, he retains an astonishingly youthful good humour and will have enjoyed watching Cloth Cap almost as much as the three winners he has had in the Grand National.
Hemmings had taken the Ladbrokes Trophy previously with Trabolgan in 2005 but it is one major race that has until now eluded Jonjo O’Neill either as a Grand National-winning trainer or as a champion jockey before that. How neat a historical twist that the deficit should be corrected by the son of Peter Scudamore, who succeeded O’Neill as a riding champion and who himself won the great race on Chatham in 1991.
But enough of the past. Tom Scudamore was honed down to his minimum on Cloth Cap but any hunger only showed in his sweetly stylish eagerness for the onward leap. The six-minute, 21-fence journey was an example of horse and jockey as much in symmetry as you are likely to see.
It was an 18-runner field but the story is simply told. Cloth Cap set off in front accompanied by the Scottish- trained Aye Right with the favourite Vinndication outside them and last year’s second, The Conditional, close up. Vinndication hit the deck five from home and while Aye Right battled hard up to the last, Cloth Cap drew away on the run-in to win by ten lengths with The Conditional 1½ lengths further back in third.
An elated O’Neill may well now aim Cloth Cap for the Grand National, while its Scottish counterpart will be the target for Aye Right who had made the long journey down from the Borders with his remarkable trainer, Harriet Graham. She has only five horses in her stable and is presently on crutches after being run down by her lorry. It rolled back over her after she got out to help a fellow driver. Hardly fair for a Good Samaritan.
Over 23 seasons and more than 1,000 winners, Scudamore has brought humour as well as skill to the game. However painful, he will have seen the joke since he walked away unscathed when in the next race after his Ladbrokes triumph he was on another frontrunner, the favourite Moonlighter, only to crash out at the fifth.
At Newcastle, the Champion Hurdle winner Epatante looked the champion she is in taking the Fighting Fifth Hurdle. Her task was made easier by the frontrunning Not So Sleepy unseating Paddy Brennan at the first and wiping out Silver Streak at the second. Such are the hazards of the jumping game. Epatante is now as short as 7-4 to retain her crown at the Cheltenham Festival.