Trevor Hemmings’ love for the Grand National was no secret. In fact, the former Preston North End owner often made winning the prestigious Aintree race the goal for his horses during their careers and he was lucky enough to achieve that feat on an impressive three occasions.
Fan favourite Hedgehunter got the famous green and yellow-chequered silks off the mark in 2005, also opening the account for jockey Ruby Walsh and trainer Willie Mullins, before Ballabriggs, ridden by Jason Maguire, and Many Clouds, jockeyed by Leighton Aspell, followed suit in the 2011 and 2015 renewals, respectively.
Those hat-trick of triumphs are enough to see him hold the joint record for the most wins as an owner, alongside the likes of Gigginstown House Stud and Noel Le Mare. But it looked like Hemmings was going to make that record his very own last year, as Cloth Cap set off as the 11/2 favourite in the 2021 renewal of the marathon race.
However, despite being prominent at the front of the field for much of the race, the then nine-year-old lost his place in second when he stumbled four out from home and Cloth Cap was soon pulled up by Tom Scudamore as the horse quickly weakened and made a noise before reaching the third-last fence.
It was a disappointing end to the race for the backers of the favourite, but Cloth Cap underwent a wind operation shortly after Scudamore pulled him up and he’s set to return to Aintree on Saturday for another crack at the National — albeit as somewhat of an outsider, as he currently sits at around 25/1 in the Grand National 2022 odds.
With Hemmings sadly passing away at the age of 86 last October, it would certainly be fitting for Cloth Cap to honour his late owner with a historic fourth victory in the race and there wouldn’t be a dry eye in the Aintree concourses should the 10-year-old pull off the impossible.
Still, handler Jonjo O’Neill, who trained 2010 National winner Don’t Push It — the horse that famously ended Sir AP McCoy’s drought in the Aintree highlight — is seemingly confident with Cloth Cap’s ability and hasn’t been left disappointed with what he has seen from the 10-year-old so far this season.
“I’m very happy with him and he’s not done too much wrong this season – he ran well early in the season, flared up an old injury at Ascot and ran well last time at Doncaster,” O’Neill said.
“Tom [Scudamore] was delighted with him at Lambourn on Thursday and he’s looking forward to riding him.
“His wind cut out in the race last year – we got that sorted straight away and I don’t see him any different to last season when he went off favourite. I’m very happy with his preparation and really positive about him. He has to have good ground – it would catch him out if it’s on the softer side.”
It’s not uncommon for horses to come back and win the National after failing on the first attempt, like it is in the Gold Cup, and Cloth Cap’s form hasn’t been terrible this season — finishing fourth and sixth in his first two races of the campaign before refusing the final fence while in the lead at Ascot in December.
Third in a three-mile, two-furlong Handicap Chase at Doncaster last month is a bit more promising, even if he was well beaten by Undersupervision. He’s a pound lower this year as well, which could be a slight advantage, but it’s likely too much to ask for Cloth Cap to win the National. It would be great to see him place though!