In April, two sporting events usually loom large over all others – the Grand National and golf’s US Masters. Both events will go ahead as planned this year, although there is a tiger-shaped hole in each that will leave fans a little disappointed. Tiger Woods will not appear in the Masters this year as he is recovering from injuries sustained in a serious car crash in February. Tiger Roll, meanwhile, will not be in the Grand National after owner Michael O’Leary followed through with a threat to remove the horse from the race.
The Grand National’s make up is such that it usually doesn’t focus on one horse. Indeed, the festival that has built up around the race has grown in scope, with several Grade 1 events like Aintree Hurdle and Melling Chase allowing it to compete with Cheltenham. As such, Grand National previews will focus on several races at the Aintree Festival (8th-10th April), and not just the “big one”.
However, sport also needs narratives – stories to tell. And so, Tiger Roll’s absence does take some of the romance away from the Grand National. The horse won the race in 2018 and 2019, but was robbed of a hat-trick attempt in 2020 due to the cancellation of the event. Many thought that he would return in 2021 with a bid to equal the record of the legendary Red Rum. However, O’Leary has often grumbled that the handicapper is unfair in the weights given to Tiger Roll. The Ryanair boss was often seen as being all talk and no action, but he followed through on this threat this year.
Cloth Cap is new favourite
But racing will move on – quickly. A new favourite, Cloth Cap, has emerged in the betting markets, and the 9-year-old can deliver some joy to the punters. Cloth Cap is currently priced at around 6/1 in the ante-post betting markets, and that’s relatively short for a Grand National. Tiger Roll won at 10/1 in 2019, and 4/1 when a hot-favourite a year later, but usually the ante-post markets feel a bit more open in the lead up to the race.
Cloth Cap’s price suggests two things. First, the bookmakers have a lot of confidence in him. Second, that money has been pouring in on the horse. One betting data site states that approximately 20% of all bets have gone on Cloth Cap. That’s a hugely significant amount when you consider that the race has yet to be whittled down to its traditional field of 40 runners.
Scudamore should saddle the favourite
Cloth Cap is trained by Jonjo O’Neill, who trained 2010 winner, Don’t Push It. His owner, Trevor Hemmings, is a three-time National winner – Hedgehunter (2005), Ballabriggs (2011) and Many Clouds (2015). Tom Scudamore will probably take the reins. The jockey, a popular figure in racing, has yet to win a Grand National, but he has the nous and experience to land the spoils from one of the world’s most famous races.
While Cloth Cap would be a popular winner, it’s worth pointing out that there are many other candidates with decent claims. Indeed, surprise winners of the National aren’t just possible, but common. There have been winners at 100/1 and 66/1 in the last 12 years, so nobody will be shocked to see a big-priced outsider land the prize. But when there is a favourite like Cloth Cap, victory feels like getting one over on the bookmakers for punters. If he delivers, Cloth Cap can help horse racing’s narrative move on from Tiger Roll, and become a newly-minted hero for into the bargain.