After much speculation, Gigginstown House Stud chief, Michael O’Leary, has confirmed that the legendary Tiger Roll will, in fact, round off his glittering racing career with a final crack at the Cheltenham Cross Country Chase at this year’s Cheltenham Festival.
Far from pleased with his horse’s allocated rating for the Grand National, the Ryanair owner withdrew the 12-year-old from the historic Aintree race – denying him of one final chance to complete a rare hat-trick after successive victories in 2018 and 2019.
“We’d have run him at that and it would at least have given him a fair chance,” a furious O’Leary said. “I have no intention of asking the horse, who is like a fifth child to me, to carry 11st 8lb or 11st 10lb around Aintree at his age.
“Thankfully, the Tiger Roll controversy will never happen again because he will be retired after the cross-country race in Cheltenham this year.”
There’s no doubt that the 12-year-old is one of the greatest horses of his generation. After all, it takes a special one to win back-to-back Grand Nationals – a feat that is very rarely achieved in the modern era. But when we look back on his fantastic career, that is now in its eighth year, there will always be that sad sense of what if.
Denied the chance to win a third successive Grand National in 2020, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic forcing the race to be cancelled for the first time since World War II, few would have predicted that we’d never see Tiger Roll compete in the marathon race again. That has proved to be the case though, with O’Leary left seething by the handicappers rating for the last two years in a row.
Of course, it means that there will be a lot of anticipation in the build-up to the Cross Country Chase. All 70,000 people in attendance on Ladies’ Day (Day Two) of the Cheltenham Festival will be backing Tiger Roll to win the three-mile, six-furlong race for a record-extending fourth time – and the good news is that he is being heavily backed to win the lengthy contest in the Cheltenham tips.
There’s no doubt that the roof would have come off the Prestbury Park grandstand when Tiger Roll upset Easysland, the even money favourite, to win by a mammoth 18 lengths had racegoers been in attendance last year. However, with the ‘Cheltenham Roar’ set to be louder than ever and it already confirmed that this will be the 12-year-old’s last outing, the atmosphere will be electric if Tiger Roll is romping up the hill towards the finish in the lead.
But there could also be a massive anti-climax around the Cotswolds. Tiger Roll certainly isn’t the horse he once was, and despite being the 4/1 favourite for the Cross Country, his form hasn’t exactly been convincing since that stunning victory last year. He was fourth in the Bowl Chase at the Grand National Festival the following week, over 90 lengths behind the winner, Clan Des Obeaux, while he was pulled up in his seasonal reappearance back at Aintree in December before finishing 14th at Navan in January.
It seems more of a case of the bookmakers taking no risks. They know Tiger Roll will be heavily backed by his adoring punters, and with trainer Gordon Elliott prepping him for the final time and Keith Donoghue set for the ride of his life in a race he has already won three times with the horse, it would be foolish to rule the 12-year-old completely. Can Tiger Roll bow out with a victory? We certainly hope so!
This year’s Cheltenham Festival runs from Tuesday 15th to Friday 18th March.