Ryanair chief executive Michael O'Leary does not do sentimentality as anyone who has crossed him has learned. Neither, unfortunately for him and thousands of racing fans, does jockey Jack Kennedy.
Everybody wanted Tiger Roll to win in his last race. So often the darling of race goers and the scourge of bookies, the 12-year-old's last stint at glory stumbled in the soft ground at Cheltenham.
The twice Grand National winner and five-time Cheltenham winner could not add one last victory which would have meant a tie for a record-equalling sixth win at the festival.
It rained and rained at the racecourse on Wednesday. The water dripped off the top of the grandstands, rattled off the tents and turned nearly every blade of grass into mud. The horses emerged from their exertions with steam rising from their flanks.
Yet, despite the weather, there was a record crowd for a second day of 64,431, up more than 5,000 on the previous record. The absence of crowds last year because of Covid-19 created pent-up demand for the festival.
Before the off, O’Leary downplayed Tiger Roll’s chances in the Glenfarclas Cross Country Steeple Chase, a renewal he had won previously in 2018, 2019 and last year. “I just hope he doesn’t pull up. He doesn’t like soft ground,” said his owner.
Yet the little horse with the biggest of hearts confounded O’Leary’s scepticism by nosing in front within 200 yards of the line, only to be overtaken by Kennedy’s mount Delta Work.
There was an emotional catch in O’Leary’s voice afterwards. “It’s hard not to feel disappointed. It would have been a magical fairy tale. He went out on his shield, he’s the horse of a lifetime.
“He’ll come home to Gigginstown and so will Delta Work. I’m actually upset. I’d love to have seen him [Tiger Roll] win it. Cheltenham doesn’t do fairy tales.”
O’Leary added that he would like to “shoot Jack Kennedy”, but the aforementioned jockey is as hard nosed as the Ryanair boss.
“Everybody hates me now but I don’t care. A lot of people don’t like me now after that but it doesn’t really bother me to be honest,” said Kennedy whose face was a pancake of mud.
“I said to my brother that I might be the most hated man in Cheltenham on Wednesday evening, and I was right.”
The crowd gave Tiger Roll three cheers before the diminutive gelding departed the parade ring to the sound of Survivor’s Eye of the Tiger.
Many of the Irish visitors wore scarves in the maroon and white of Gigginstown Stud. “The horse that won it has been forgotten about because everybody just wants to see Tiger Roll,” said Donal McCarthy who came from Cork.
“Jack Kennedy might have pulled up but that’s not racing. We ran down to try and get a perfect spot and then to see Tiger Roll get caught at the very end is devastating.”
O’Leary had better luck when Commander of Fleet caused an upset in the Grade Three Coral Cup Handicap Hurdle when winning at 50-1. It was Gordon Elliott’s first win at this year’s festival and he thanked O’Leary for his support after the trainer’s suspension last year for being photographed sitting on a dead horse.
The biggest winner on the second day of Cheltenham was Willie Mullins. For the first time in his 26 years as a trainer at the festival he won the second day's feature race, the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase.
The Mullin’s-trained French horse Energumene cantered home in the race by 8½ lengths.
St Patrick’s Day is promised to be fair and dry at the old course. Unfortunately, it is 24 hours too late for Tiger Roll, now heading for a happy retirement.