Tiger Roll barely breaks sweat in winning Cross Country
Keith Donoghue guides the Grand National winner home to give Gordon Elliott first win
Tiger Roll ridden by jockey Keith Donoghue goes over a water jump in the Glenfarclas Chase during Ladies Day of the 2019 Cheltenham Festival at Cheltenham Racecourse. Photo: Paul Harding/PA Wire
A lordly Altior secured a fourth Cheltenham festival win in the Champion Chase on Wednesday and Tiger Roll wasted no time delivering his ‘anything you can do’ response.
Like a postman always delivering, the Grand National hero won the Glenfarclas Cross-Country Chase in a 22 length rout that saw him equal Altior’s feat of winning at the festival for a fourth time.
Considering the first of Tiger Roll’s was five years previously in the Triumph Hurdle, the diminutive and hugely popular star remarkably looked better than ever in sweeping aside his opposition for the near-four mile marathon.
A year ago Tiger Roll proceeded from here to win the Aintree National and is as low as 6-1 to become the first since a certain Red Rum to win the world’s most famous steeplechase back-to-back.
On a day when Gordon Elliott identified a potential future superstar in the unbeaten Weatherbys Champion Bumper winner Envoi Allen there was still no budging Tiger Roll from centre-stage.
Like the legendary ‘Rummy’ he is theoretically nowhere near an archetypal National hero.
Both are small flat-bred horses renowned more for grit than freakish Altior-like talent. But it is that same spit in your eye resolution that has earned Tiger Roll a following that’s down to far more than lucrative festival reliability.
Even owner Michael O’Leary appears to have fallen under the spell of the hero he once affectionately described as “a little rat of a thing”, to the extent even the Ryanair boss isn’t sure he should go back to Liverpool next month.
“He’s just an amazing little horse. There was never a moment of doubt which is most unusual around here,” he said.
“That’s his Gold Cup this year. I’m not sure he’ll go back to the National carrying topweight. He barely scraped over the line last year. It’s not certain he’ll run. We’ve got others for the National.
“It’s about minding him now rather than going back to defend the National title. You never win the National two years in a row. He’s small of frame and stature and he owes us nothing,” O’Leary added.
O’Leary broke the habit of a lifetime by giving into public demand and allowing Apple’s Jade run in the Champion Hurdle. The result hardly encouraged him to believe anything other than it’s easy to brave with someone else’s horse.
But a shot at history in Aintree is an even more rare beast than Tiger Roll. So surely not even a post-March 29th Brexit date will keep the reigning champion away from Liverpool next month.
Having saddled four beaten favourites, Tiger Roll rode to the rescue of Elliott’s week before Envoi Allen took his veteran stable companion’s cue with a gutsy Bumper victory.
The well-backed 2-1 favourite wasn’t suited by a slack tempo throughout, raced wide and had to stand tough down the hill when space briefly was at a premium.
But the quality that still sees the giant five-year-old unbeaten was matched by courage up the hill as Envoi Allen repelled Blue Sari’s sustained challenge by three parts of a length.
“All I know is he’s a real one,” Elliott said. “We wanted to get him into a nice rhythm and not have him knocked about. Most importantly he knows how to win – he wants to win.”
Blue Sari was reported to be lame after the race following a veterinary inspeciton.
For a second day running there were four Irish-trained winners and a number of firsts.
Another Grand National hero, Martin Brassil , saddled a maiden festival winner when City Island was too good for Champ in the Ballymore Novices Hurdle. The 8-1 winner is owned by the race sponsor Sean Mulryan and his wife Bernadette.
Brassil won the Aintree National with Numbersixvalverde in 2006 and said after his latest star beat Champ by two lengths: “This is championship racing. Numbersixvalverde went the handicap route.”
Mark Walsh did the steering on City Island, less than 24 hours after his Champion Hurdle victory on Espoir D’Allen and added: “We still don’t know how good he is because when he gets to the front he doesn’t do a stroke.”
Band Of Outlaws was officially Joseph O’Brien’s first festival winner too in the Fred Winter. The former champion jockey has taken the training ranks by storm but although he prepared the 2016 Triumph Hurdle winner Ivanovich Gorbatov the horse was technically trained by his father, Aidan.
O’Brien’s cousin JJ Slevin had to switch the 7-2 favourite on the run to the last after briefly running short of room but Band Of Outlaws still quickened clear by two lengths.
“We were fairly confident and thought he could be better than a handicapper,” O’Brien admitted afterwards.
Delta Work started favourite for the RSA Chase but had to settle for third behind the Paul Nicholls trained Topofthegame. He earned comparisons to the 2007 winner Denman who landed the following year’s Gold Cup.