Cheltenham Ones To Watch: Can the Tiger roar to a sixth Festival success

Tiger Roll is of course a dual Grand National winner – 2018 & ‘19 – but we should not forget he has won five times at the Cheltenham Festival; the Triumph Hurdle of 2014, the NH Chase in 2017 and the X-Country Chase in 2018, 2019 & 2021.

Only Quevega has won more races at the Festival than Tiger Roll. Willie Mullins wonderful mare landed the Mares’ Hurdle six times in succession from 2009-2014 inclusive while the great Golden Miller won five successive Gold Cups from 1932 as well as landing the Grand National in 1934. He remains the only horse to win the Gold Cup and Grand National in the same year.

Tiger Roll has won 13 of his 44 wins under rules so over half of his career successes have been in the Grand National or at the Cheltenham Festival. That is some strike rate.

The 2014 Triumph Hurdle; his first Festival success

It is fair to say that his 2014 Triumph Hurdle success eight years ago was not a vintage renewal of that juvenile hurdle, and that win remains his sole victory at Grade 1 level.

His career went into the doldrums somewhat after a win in a modest 4-y-o hurdle back at Cheltenham later in the year and it was the switch to fences 18 months after his last victory over hurdles that brought about an upturn in his fortunes.

That said he was a 16/1 shot when he won the 4m National Hunt Chase at the 2017 Festival despite a moderate round of jumping with at least two significant errors. He was beaten in his next four starts including when beaten more than 40L on his first start over the X-Country course at Cheltenham in December 2017.

He was off the track for three months before landing the first of his hat-trick of X-Country Chases the following March and this was the first time that Tiger Roll showed he was as equally adept on soft ground as he was on a sound surface.

The following month Elliot’s 8-y-old was all out to land a first Grand National on heavy ground at odds of 10/1 although he travelled and jumped like much the best horse in the race.

At his peak in 2019

I would argue that Tiger Roll was at his peak in 2019. His 22L romp at Cheltenham – sent off the 5/4 market leader – was his most decisive success over the X-Country fences while he went off just 4/1 for his second National victory despite carrying 11st 5lbs.

He had become a horse with a huge public following but he was easily brushed aside at the 2020 Festival by French raider Easysland. The outbreak of Covid caused the abandonment of the following month’s National and with it the opportunity to emulate Red Rum from the 70s and win the great race for a third time although in his instance it would have been in three successive years.

Tiger Roll raced three times between his 17L defeat at the hands of Easysland in March 2020 and last year’s X-Country Chase and in those outings, he pulled up few trees; beaten over 90 lengths in the two starts he finished the course and pulled up back at Cheltenham in November.

Bouncing back in 2021; a fifth Festival victory

I think even his most ardent of fans were beginning to lose faith in the 11-y-old – who had been taken out of last year’s National because owner Michael O’Leary thought his handicap mark unfair – prior to lase year’s Festival, but he bounced back to something like his best when he reversed 2020 form with Easysland to the tune of thirty-five lengths coming home 18L clear of his old adversary.

Elliot was suspended from the sport last year due to a crass error of judgement, and the gelding was trained by Denise Foster when he landed his fifth win at the Festival 12 months ago. His win would have raised the roof, but Covid restrictions did not allow for spectators as the Tiger roared back to something like his best. Ten of the horses 13 career successes have come between February and June and there is no question that the horse thrives in the second half of the campaign.

Connections took Tiger Roll to Aintree last spring where, trying to make a futile point over his handicap mark, they did all they could to make sure the horse was beaten out of sight in the Grade 1 3m 1f Bowl.

The weights for this year’s National are published on Tuesday; at twelve you would think this will be his last chance of more Aintree glory and the chance of emulating Red Rum. Let’s hope he gets the opportunity to take his chance in April although I’m not convinced the BHA handicapper will be doing the Irish challengers too many favours given ten of the first 11 home in the greatest horse race in the world last year were trained across the Irish Sea.

He ran as well as could be expected over hurdles last time out, taken wide out the back and never asked a serious question. I suspect he will be a different proposition back at Cheltenham next month.

Tiger Roll is 9/2 with bet365 NRNB & BOG for a fourth X-Country Chase and we know he comes alive at Cheltenham, and this is his time of the year.

There are noises coming out of Ireland which suggest if he lands a sixth win at the Cheltenham Festival next month he will be immediately retired. I’m not convinced; the lure of a third Grand National is likely to be too great for his powerful connections.

The Triumph Hurdle, NH Chase and X-Country Chase are hardly the three highest profile races at the Cheltenham Festival, but that should not detract from his achievements. Tiger Roll is a Cheltenham legend who will be tuned to the minute next month by Elliot.

Will there be another roar from the packed stands for the Tiger as he makes his way up the Cheltenham hill? Not long to wait now.