Tiger Roll is a miraculous racehorse and his magnificent career has to be seen to be believed. He was originally owned by Sheikh Mohammed, but cast off by the supremo of one of the world’s most powerful thoroughbred operations. After winning a Market Rasen Juvenile Hurdle on racecourse debut in November 2013 when trained by Nigel Hawke, Gigginstown House Stud bought him. They saw something in Tiger Roll, who was bred to race on the Flat, and sent him to the County Meath stables of Gordon Elliott.
The rest for the bay gelding by triple Group 1 winner Authorized is history. Tiger Roll has etched himself into National Hunt horse racing folklore by producing his best at Britain’s premier jumps meetings, the Cheltenham Festival and Aintree Grand National Festival. Racehorses simply do not win the world’s most famous steeplechase more than once in modern times. Red Rum was an exception to that rule, until Tiger Roll came along and won back-to-back Grand Nationals.
He is also a four-time Cheltenham Festival winner across three different races and the length and breadth of his career. After winning the Triumph Hurdle as a juvenile back in 2014, Tiger Roll spent some seasons in the wilderness only to re-emerge in 2017 with National Hunt Chase success. That contrast, coupled with a lengthy spell in the doldrums in between, is remarkable. The Triumph Hurdle is a two-mile race, yet the National Hunt Chase for novices over fences and amateur jockeys is double that distance.
Where Tiger Roll has excelled the most at Cheltenham, though, is in the Cross Country Chase at the Festival in the each of the last two years. A unique course with obstacles of various sizes to clear, he has adapted to the unique demands of this test over three-and-three-quarter miles superbly.
The odds on Tiger Roll winning for a fifth time at the Festival and completing a Cross Country hat-trick are short with good reason. He is a standout best-price 13/8 with Ladbrokes and as short as evens under non-runner no bet terms with Sky Bet. That reflects his terrific form over the last two years. Tiger Roll and Cheltenham racing is only part of it with the bigger headlines made on Merseyside at Aintree. He is a big name which adds even more attention to the Festival, especially as his racing career may be coming to an end after this season.
It may be one more chance to see Tiger Roll. Over the Cross Country course off level weights, it’s hard to see him having any major rivals. One other major Irish owner has hand to play against Gigginstown’s specialist, however. JP McManus has won the Cross Country a record six times since it was added to the Cheltenham Festival programme in 2005. With previous winner Josies Orders over the hill aged 12, he has bought French raider Easysland to take on Tiger Roll. Trainer David Cottin keeps the six-year-old in his stable. Easysland is four years younger than Tiger Roll and set to prepare for the Cheltenham Festival at Pau in early February.
McManus also has Yanworth with banks specialist Enda Bolger, but the early season confidence about his conversion to Cross Country seems to have ebbed away. The purchase of Easysland has seen to that.
With Yanworth’s stamina to last the trip in doubt, and Tiger Roll having beaten most other Cross Country horses over the last couple of years, it is hard to make a case against Elliott’s charge. He has a favourite’s chance with only the French young pretender having the scope to spoil the party.
When will Tiger Roll next race? It may be in the Grade 2 Boyne Hurdle at Navan in February which he used as prep for the Cross Country last season after a mid-winter break, or he could go straight to Cheltenham in search of that fifth Festival win.
As for his previous campaign, Tiger Roll ran four times and won three of them. His reappearance run came in a Cross Country Handicap Chase at Cheltenham in November where he tried to give 15lbs to old rival Josies Orders. Tiger Roll stayed on to be fourth and beaten 5½ lengths, but he was a market drifter that day. He then belied odds of 25/1 to land the Boyne Hurdle over two miles and five furlongs.
When Tiger Roll won his first Cross Country Chase at the Festival, he only won by a couple of lengths. Back in that race off level weights with his rivals, he demolished the opposition storming home for a 22-length romp – reversing form with Josies Orders in emphatic style.
A successful defence of his Cross Country crown was one thing, to go and win back-to-back Grand Nationals was quite another. Tiger Roll was 9lbs higher in the handicap at Aintree than the previous year when he had won by a head from Pleasant Company off a 150 rating. The 2019 Grand National went his way despite the hike in weight. Tiger Roll took full advantage of Jessica Harrington’s mare Magic Of Light making a mistake at the last when upsides him and delivered again, scoring by 2¾ lengths.
It’s worth noting that the runner-up, fourth home Walk In The Mill, and seventh Regal Encore have all come out and won this season. Tiger Roll is on the cusp of equine immortality and, whatever happens in this spring, he’s massively overachieved.