To the vast majority of people around the world, Tiger Roll will always be remembered as the first horse since Red Rum to win back-to-back Grand Nationals; a feat he achieved in 2018 and 2019. He might well have surpassed the famous horse if the 2020 Grand National had been allowed to take place as normal, but world events at the time meant that that wasn’t to be. To those with more in-depth knowledge of horse racing, however, Tiger Roll’s feats at Cheltenham are equally as impressive as those at Aintree.
The Gigginstown House Stud horse won the National Hunt Chase Challenge Cup in 2017, following that up with success in the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase in 2018, 2019 and 2021, making him the event’s most successful ever horse. Though the event is relatively young, having been run for the first time in 2005, both Garde Champetre and Balthazar King have won it twice, showing that it is a race for horses with class. To win it three times is unprecedented, but with news that Tiger Roll will be retired after this year’s renewal, the question is whether he can win it for a fourth time.
Tiger Roll – A Special Horse
The similarities between Tiger Roll and Red Rum aren’t limited to both horses having won the Grand National twice in succession. As with Red Rum, Tiger Roll was actually bred to be run on the flat. Even so, his first ever race was one that was run over hurdles, with Michael O’Leary buying him after winning it in order to add him to his Gigginstown House Stud. He was trained by Gordon Elliott at his Cullentra House Stables, where he remained ever since being purchased by O’Leary, enhancing the County Meath yard with his presence.
He won the Triumph Hurdle in 2014 when he was four-years-old, but what followed was a series of disappointments. Indeed, in his 11 starts after the Triumph Hurdle, he won just two of them and one was a flat race. Elliott held off on training him for steeplechases until he turned six, at which point he enjoyed success in a number of novices chases before being entered in to the Challenge Cup during the Cheltenham Festival in 2017. Having already enjoyed success at Prestbury Park in the Triumph Hurdle, he enjoyed his return to his old stomping ground.
Tiger Roll & Cheltenham
Tiger Roll, who was by Authorized out of Swiss Roll, had a four month break before retiring to racing in order to take part in the National Hunt Challenge Cup Amateur Riders’ Novices’ Chase, a Grade 2 event that is part of the Cheltenham Festival, in March of 2017. Ridden by Lisa O’Neill, he won the four mile chase before being entered into the Irish Grand National at Fairyhouse. That was his final race of the season and he was pulled up, but he had shown Gordon Elliott enough for him to be entered into the following year’s Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase.
He won that as well, showing that he was adept at taking on the events and excitement of Prestbury Park. There was concern that he might have run out of steam when he came fourth in a cross country chase at Cheltenham during the November Meeting, but he won the Boyne Hurdle at Navan to prove that he still had plenty left in the tank. As a result, he was the favourite for the Glenfarcas Cross Country Chase, duly obliging the punters by winning it by 22 lengths. He suffered an injury in November of 2019, having surgery to fix it.
When he returned to take on the Glenfarcas Cross Country Chase for the third time, he was once again made the odds-on favourite. This time, though, he was to suffer defeat at the hands of Easysland, losing out by 17 lengths. He returned to Cheltenham in March 2021, once again competing in the Cross Country Chase but this time under the tutorship of Denise Foster after Gordon Elliott had been suspended from racing. He got his revenge over Easysland, who started as the favourite, defeating him by 18 lengths having started with odds of 9/2.
The Grand National
In amongst all of this, of course, Tiger Roll achieved the thing that meant that he was forever cemented in the hearts of the British racing public. The Grand National is considered by many to be the World’s Greatest Steeplechase, taking place over more than four miles and asking the horses to jump 30 fences during the two laps of the race. Tiger Roll won it for the first time in 2018, following in the footsteps of Red Rum by becoming the first horse since him to win the race in consecutive seasons when he achieved victory in 2019.
The 2020 Grand National was cancelled because of world events at the time, with experts instead running a virtual Grand National. Tiger Roll began the race as the 5/1 favourite, but eventually finished fourth behind Potters Corner, Walk In The Mill and Any Second Now. His chance of a third successive win was scuppered, but there were hopes that he’d be able to follow in Red Rum’s footsteps once again by winning it after a year off in 2021. Sadly, he was withdrawn from the race by Michael O’Leary after a disagreement over the weight he was expected to carry.
No Tiger Roll In The 2022 Grand National
The disagreement over the weight that the handicapper expects Tiger Roll to carry has rolled over into this year’s Grand National. The winner of the race in 2018 and 2019 was given 11 stone and four pounds to carry, which owner Michael O’Leary described as ‘absurd’. It is the same amount as the winner of the race last year, though six pounds less than Conflated and Galvin are being asked to carry. For O’Leary, the idea of asking a 12-year-old horse to carry such a high weight is nothing short of ‘ludicrous’.
Indeed, O’Leary didn’t pull his punches when discussing the weights. He said,
“We don’t believe it is fair or safe to ask him to carry close to top weight at the age of 12. Since we are responsible for the welfare of Tiger Roll, we must protect him from the idiotic opinion of this handicapper We therefore regret to announce that he will not run in this year’s Aintree Grand National.”
The language was explosive, demonstrating the anger that the O’Leary obviously feels towards the weight that his horse would have to carry if he took part in the National.
For the handicapper, meanwhile, the decision was a perfectly reasonable one. Martin Greenwood said,
“As I keep telling people, you can’t just ignore his win in the Cross Country at Cheltenham last season which was less than 12 months ago when he easily defeated two good horses in Easysland and Some Neck.”
He also said that he has ‘relented’ by dropping the rating of Tiger Roll from what it was before, so any hope that O’Leary had that the weight could be dropped further was soon nipped in the bud.
Interestingly, trainer Gordon Elliott initially seemed happy enough with the weight he’d been given. Speaking after the announcements of the weights, Elliott said,
“He has a nice weight so the Grand National could be on the agenda.”
This was an opinion that O’Leary didn’t agree with, clearly, and others also questioned the weights given to their horse. Trainer Henry de Bromhead, for example, asked why last year’s winner, Minella Times, had seen his weight increased by 15 pounds. He fell at Punchestown in December and then was pulled up during a race at Leopardstown in February.
Cross Country Chase His Last Hurrah
When he was attacking the Grand National handicapper for the weight that was assigned to Tiger Roll, Michael O’Leary said,
“Instead [of running in the National] Tiger Roll will be trained for the Cross Country race in Cheltenham, and there is every likelihood that win, lose or draw, this will be his last racecourse appearance.”
In other words, Tiger Roll will be retired from racing in the wake of his appearance in the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase. As a result, you can expect a huge amount of people to be betting on him for old time’s sake.
Of course, when large numbers of people place a bet on something, bookmakers have to respond by reducing the odds in order to protect their liability. As a result, the odds you’ll get on Tiger Roll for the event will be poor, but not because the bookies actually think that he’s likely to win the race. Run over three miles, six furlongs and 37 yards, the Cross Country Chase features 32 fences and is a true test of the endurance of those participating in it. At the time of writing, Tiger Roll’s odds put him as the favourite, sitting at 9/4.
There will be plenty of people hoping that he is able to put in one last great performance before O’Leary decides to retire him, with three different horses having won the Cross Country Chase as 12-year-olds. Spot Thedifference won it at that age in its debut year, with Native Jack also winning as a 12-year-old in 2006. A New Story was the last horse to win the race as an elder statesman, achieving the feat in 2010. Since then there have been three nine-year-old winners and two ten-year-olds, with four eight-year-olds and won winner at the age of six.
Can He Win It One Last Time?
There’s no doubt that Tiger Roll is a brilliant horse. His success in the Grand National and the Cross Country Chase says as much, considering just how difficult they are as races. Whilst the entire horse racing community will be desperate for him to succeed in his last ever outing, there are certainly going to be question marks over the likelihood of that actually happening. Easysland will be one year older and more mature, having won it as a six-year-old in 2020, whilst Delta Work will also be well-fancied by many.
For Tiger Roll, his most recent outing was the Grade B Handicap Hurdle at Navan in which he came 14th out of 17 horses. He was pulled up when running in the Many Clouds Chase at Aintree in December, having finished fourth in the Betway Bowl Chase at the same course last April. Indeed, his last win is in the very race that we’re talking about in last year’s Cheltenham Festival, so if he is to succeed then he’s going to have to perform much better than he’s managed recently.
That, though, is the romance of racing and Tiger Roll has proven that he’s a horse for the romantics time and time again.