Tiger Roll set for seasonal bow at Cheltenham on Sunday

Michael O’Leary voices more frustration over star’s weight from the British handicapper

Tiger Roll is set to return to action at Cheltenham on Sunday accompanied by familiar controversy over his treatment by the British handicapper.

The dual-Aintree Grand National champion, who rejuvenated his career with a stunning fifth Cheltenham Festival success in March, is on course to line up at the weekend in the Winchcombe Handicap Chase over almost three and a half miles.

That is despite his ownership continuing to insist the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) handicapper is "way off the mark" in his assessment and that personal feelings have got in the way of a fair reappraisal of perhaps the most popular horse in training.

Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary relented on his threat to not allow Tiger Roll a hat-trick attempt on the 2020 Aintree National over his treatment by the handicapper only for the race to be cancelled due to the pandemic.


However he followed through earlier this year when withdrawing Tiger Roll from the National in March after describing his BHA handicap mark as patently unfair.

Later that month the horse who had looked set for retirement after some poor performances bounced back to form with a vengeance when securing a third Cross-Country success at the Cheltenham Festival.

Tiger Roll subsequently did line up at Aintree but in the Betway Bowl over the Mildmay fences and was beaten 92 lengths in fourth behind Clan Des Obeaux.

The Aintree stewards held an enquiry into Tiger Roll’s running and riding on that occasion after they said he “appeared to be tenderly handled throughout”. Explanations were noted.

It added to the sense of rancour in O'Leary's Gigginstown Stud team over Tiger Roll's treatment by the BHA handicapper Martin Greenwood which persists ahead of the Paddy Power Gold Cup meeting at Cheltenham starting on Friday.

"How can a horse be rated 155 in Ireland and 167 in England?" the Gigginstown spokesman Eddie O'Leary demanded to know on Monday.

“There is something amiss here. This man obviously has a personal thing against us or the horse. It is patently wrong and the Irish handicapper agrees by dropping his mark to 155. So unfortunately we will have this bullshit for the rest of the year because this man won’t drop the horse.

"We should have run him in the Irish National last year. He was down to 158, we could have claimed 7lbs off him and it would have been perfect. Instead we went to England so the handicapper there could see. He ran a bad fourth. Was he dropped a pound? Not a pound.

“He will run on Sunday, he’ll try his best and he probably won’t run well because at this time of the year he never does. But he has to start somewhere,” he added.

O’Leary also queried why Tiger Roll didn’t feature in the end of season jumping classifications despite his heady rating in Britain.

He also insisted that any attempt at emulating the legendary Red Rum and trying to win a third Aintree National in April is contingent on the BHA handicapper dropping Tiger Roll’s rating.

“Once again, he will not go there unless there’s a change in the discrepancy between his Irish mark and his English mark. Even at 155 he’s too high. But how can one man have him on 155 and the other at 167?” he asked.

Riding plans for Tiger Roll at the weekend have yet to be discussed although Davy Russell could be in line to ride the horse for the first time since their second National triumph in 2019.

O'Leary also said riding arrangements for the Kerry National winner Assemble in Saturday's Paddy Power Gold Cup have to be finalised.

Gigginstown have engaged top claimer Jordan Gainford a lot this season but he is out of action after breaking his wrist on Saturday.

Only one Irish trained horse – Tranquil Sea in 2009 – has won the first big handicap prize of the British season in the last 40 years.

Separately, Tuesday’s Fairyhouse programme includes the Lorna Brooke Ireland V Britain Handicap Chase between some of the top amateurs on either side of the Irish Sea.

The challenge event remembers Brooke, the 37-year-old rider who suffered fatal injuries in a fall at Taunton in April.

Jamie Codd and Barry O'Neill are among the home jockeys taking on top British amateurs such as Gina Andrews and Becky Smith.

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor is the racing correspondent of The Irish Times. He also writes the Tipping Point column