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Backing Cloth Cap seems to be perfect fit for punters


Epatante winning the Champion Hurdle. Pic: racingpost.com

Epatante winning the Champion Hurdle. Pic: racingpost.com

Epatante winning the Champion Hurdle. Pic: racingpost.com

Cloth Cap can prove more than a match for a host of classy rivals in the Ladbrokes Trophy Chase at Newbury.

Ground conditions are at last right for Jonjo O'Neill's eight-year-old - for the first time since he finished a close third in the Scottish Grand National in April 2019.

He is consequently racing from just a 2lb higher rating, having battled through the mud in all four starts last season and then seen the rain just come at the wrong time again on his return to action last month.

It is a stretch to suggest that he is in the same class as some of his much higher-weighted opponents in Saturday's renewal of the famous handicap - especially Vinndication, for whom victory or even an honourable place under a welter burden would confirm Gold Cup aspirations.

But O'Neill's proven stayer sneaks in off bottom weight, and the receipt of 25lb from Vinndication could well balance the scales in his favour.

Cloth Cap is unlikely to be head and shoulders above the rest, and could well find himself outpaced at some stage - but stamina is always key in this hugely competitive handicap, especially when it is allied with conditions to suit.

It is a tip in itself that owner Trevor Hemmings chose to retain Cloth Cap when he reduced his string earlier this year.

That is likely to have been with a Grand National bid in mind, but victory off his current rating would hardly scupper that plan in a race renowned as a trial for Aintree and Cheltenham glory through the years.

Cloth Cap ran well in the circumstances at Cheltenham five weeks ago - and with no further rain forecast on good ground, this is his big chance.

Elsewhere on Newbury's classy card, Tea Clipper and Marie's Rock are two more who should be suited by the unseasonally sound surface.

The former has been beaten by just one other horse in six career starts, including a Larkhill point-to-point, yet still has prospects of bagging his third handicap - having retained a workable rating thanks to the narrow margins of his success to date.

The Get Your Ladbrokes £1 Free Bet Today Handicap Hurdle looks tailormade, and should be within his grasp.

Marie's Rock seeks to follow in the illustrious hoofprints of stablemate and fellow mare Epatante, in the Ladbrokes Committed To Safer Gambling Intermediate Hurdle.

Nicky Henderson's subsequent Champion Hurdle heroine ran away with this Listed race 12 months ago - and in the unbeaten Marie's Rock, he has another prime contender.

This has long been pinpointed as the five-year-old's starting point this season as she bids to extend her winning sequence, having been denied a shot at Cheltenham in March when injury intervened after three wins in a bumper and novice hurdles.

Epatante begins her campaign 20 minutes earlier in the Betfair Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle.

Henderson is already a five-time winner of this Grade One - and although his previous champion Buveur D'Air suffered a freak injury when narrowly failing to land his hat-trick last year, he has not been put off venturing north again.

Epatante is understandably a short price to land her fourth successive victory, and should do so - although Sceau Royal, Silver Streak and Ribble Valley represent a significant collective challenge, with forecast good ground set to suit all of them at least as well as the favourite.

For the same reason, and several others, Whatmore has outstanding prospects in the closing Betfair Exchange Rehearsal Handicap Chase.

Henry Daly's eight-year-old ran a series of fine races without managing a win last season, and began the new one with a career-best back up in trip at Ascot.

He lost out that day only to course specialist Regal Encore, who is largely unbeatable when on song at Ascot - and with no apparent joker lurking in the pack this time, Whatmore can prevail for the first time in 18 months.

Constancio is another who will get his ground and is still on a competitive mark in the Sky Sports Racing Sky 415 Handicap Hurdle at Doncaster.

Over here in Ireland, the cleverly named Keskonrisk can settle the Kettles Country House Supporting Fingal Ravens GAA Maiden Hurdle at Fairyhouse, having been sold to a prominent owner for an eye-watering amount into Joseph O'Brien's powerful yard after his debut bumper romp at this course on New Year's Day.

BANGOR: 12.15 Stolen Silver, 12.47 Rizzardo, 1.22 Un Prophete, 1.57 Here Comes Johny, 2.32 Dubai Guest, 3.07 Tipalong Tyler, 3.42 Irish Lion.

DONCASTER: 12.05 Furius De Ciergues, 12.35 Onemorefortheroad, 1.08 Didonato, 1.43 Constancio, 2.18 Corrany, 2.53 Elysees, 3.28 Arthur's Seat.

FAIRYHOUSE: 11.30 Sams Profile, 12.00 Braeside, 12.30 Timoteo, 1.01 Queens Brook, 1.36 Gars De Sceaux, 2.11 Keskonrisk, 2.46 King Alex, 3.21 Reality Cheque.

NEWBURY: 12.10 Mrs Hyde, 12.40 Hold The Note, 1.15 Canelo, 1.50 Tea Clipper, 2.25 Marie's Rock, 3.00 Cloth Cap, 3.35 Moonlighter.

NEWCASTLE: 11.45 State Crown, 12.20 Oscar Ceremony, 12.55 Tupelo Mississippi, 1.30 Oscar Robertson, 2.05 Epatante, 2.40 Presentandcounting, 3.15 WHATMORE (NAP).

WOLVERHAMPTON: 4.00 Line Of Reason, 4.30 Radrizzani, 5.00 Oceanline, 5.30 Liberated Lady, 6.00 Sarah's Verse, 6.30 Stoney Lane, 7.00 Rovaniemi, 7.30 Bombastic.

DOUBLE: Whatmore and Tea Clipper.