Will Tiger Roll get the send-off his racing career deserves?
At one point, Tiger Roll’s name was synonymous with success, having won the Grand National two years running, and he was looking like a big favourite to make it a hat-trick before the coronavirus pandemic hit and denied him the chance of competing in the Aintree showpiece.
Indeed, since his last Grand National triumph, little has gone Tiger Roll’s way. Five defeats have followed, and that winning mentality has crumbled into mediocrity as the Gordon Elliott-trained horse has lost his form as far as the winners’ enclosure is concerned.
Among those defeats was a second-place finish in the Glenfarclas Chase at last year’s Cheltenham Festival – a disappointing loss that unfortunately set the tone for Tiger Roll’s lack of luck in the races to come. Lining up as the odds-on favourite and aiming for a third successive victory in the long-distance race, Tiger Roll could not compete with the form of Easyland, who romped to victory by 17 lengths. With the cancellation of the Grand National, Tiger Roll and his connections were forced to stew over that poor showing, and ponder what went wrong.
We are now almost 12 months on from that defeat, and the Cheltenham Festival will soon be upon us once again. For Tiger Roll, the Festival represents a chance to get back on track and deliver another golden performance as his racing career slowly winds down. It is expected that Elliott will be targeting the Cross Country Chase for the 11-year-old, and the Cheltenham races odds have him as the second-favourite for the day two event. The only horse with shorter odds for the race is, you guessed it, last year’s villain Easyland.
But for many racing fans, Tiger Roll and the Grand National go hand in hand, and they’ll be desperate to see the two-time winner line up to take part in the 2021 showpiece. However, owner Michael O’Leary may have other ideas, with the Irishman dissatisfied with Tiger Roll’s potential handicap for the race. Indeed, this year’s Cheltenham Festival could be a final outing.
“He’s getting older and may not even run again after Cheltenham,” O’Leary said. “His last couple of runs have suggested he’s not in love with the game anymore and the priority at this time is minding Tiger Roll. He’s a small horse, we’re not going to ask him to lump huge amounts of weight around Aintree.”
That will not stop the horse racing faithful from tipping the 11-year-old for the Grand National, on the off-chance O’Leary might change his mind. Trainer Elliott is keen to see him take part at Aintree, and hopefully he’ll be able to bend O’Leary’s ear and give Tiger Roll a big-send off in racing’s most prestigious event.
“I’m training Tiger Roll for the Grand National and I will be keen to run him,” Elliott said. “I have to concentrate on training the horse and I just hope his owner lets him run in the race for the public. Everyone will be looking forward to seeing him run again in the Grand National but Michael will make that decision.”
Either way, the important thing for horse and trainer right now is to focus on the task at hand, and that is the Cheltenham cards for the Cross Country Chase. It will take a big effort to get the third win in that race, as it can be fairly assumed that Tiger Roll’s short odds are in part down to his popularity among racing fanatics.
But that popularity stems from his achievements in the sport, from the magnificent performances he has put in to win the Grand National twice, along with fine victories at Cheltenham in the past. It would be a wonderful sporting moment to see him cross the finish-line in first place at Cheltenham, and if he did, surely O’Leary could not deny him one last shot at the big one.