Let the Tiger roar: History likely to weigh heavy on racing's most perplexing success story
The handicapper has done Tiger Roar and Gigginstown no favours ahead of another Grand National bid, writes Johnny Ward.by Johnny Ward
A FRIEND AND I spent too much time in our local back in the day and too much time within it talking racing.
He is often on the ball, long claiming that Samcro was overhyped when it seemed that he was almost unbeatable. Most memorable in our arguments however was the case he made for Tiger Roll winning the Champion Hurdle in 2015.
His argument was that the horse loved Cheltenham. In 2014, when a 10-1 chance, Tiger Roll had claimed the Triumph Hurdle; later that year he won a four-year-olds’ hurdle back at the course.
Tiger Roll would thereafter go eight successive runs over hurdles without even finishing placed. He was sent off a 50/1 chance in the stayers’ hurdle in 2015, beaten 39 lengths.
He ended the 2015/2016 campaign pulled up in a handicap at Punchestown. My friend, I recall, was loathe to give up.
What has happened since is one of the most perplexing success stories racing has seen. Tiger Roll is Flat-bred and his disappointing sire, Authorized, has produced a mere handful of chasers of any note. Tiger Roll is a handy horse, perhaps why he was sent off as big as 5/2 to win a maiden chase at Ballinrobe in 2016. But even chasing he seemed to hit a ceiling pretty quickly, suffering five successive defeats as a novice.
We pick up the story in late 2016 when he went into the Munster National as a 20/1 chance under Donagh Myler. Since then, his chase form reads: ran 13 times, won two Grand Nationals, one National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham and two cross-country races at Cheltenham.
To have a former juvenile hurdler favourite for a third successive Grand National at the age of 10 is beyond bonkers yet here we are. However, people need to be realistic about his chance.
Tiger Roll makes his return in Sunday’s Boyne Hurdle at Navan, a race he won with ludicrous ease last year considering you could back him at 50/1, consistent with the reality that he was left short fitness-wise with a view to bigger targets. However, this will be his first run since Aintree last year and, crucially, since he got injured.
He had a chip removed from a joint. I am no vet but Eddie O’Leary, part-owner, says it was “more than a minor injury”. Gordon Elliott was reticent to discuss it during a visit by the British press subsequently.
This season thus has been a non-event so far and he will return on pretty bottomless ground Sunday, which will not be ideal. All of this needs to be considered about the favourite for the Grand National before a myriad of other concerns.
He will carry 11 stone and 10 pounds. No horse has carried this weight and won the National since Freebooter in 1950, though it should be countered that it is a distant cousin of the test it was then; moreover, Many Clouds (11-09) was just shy of the maximum burden five years ago.
Francois Doumen used to say you’re lucky to get five years out of a horse. Tiger Roll won his first race in 2013 and it is very much outlier territory that he is still so capable.
The killer, however, is that he is a whopping 11lb higher than last year. The handicapper can argue his case but 11lb at this level is likely to stop him. It entails having the same weight as Gold Cup hope Delta Work, were he to run, giving weight to Bristol De Mai, Native River and Anibale Fly, all top-class stayers in the recent past.
Racing Post Irish editor Richie Forristal this week argued that Eddie O’Leary’s threat not to run the horse if his weight were not sufficiently compressed, and 1lb is hardly compression at all, “is all noise”.
As of yesterday, Gigginstown’s racing manager described Tiger Roll as “a very doubtful runner”. If his remarks over the past few weeks were intended to sway the handicapper, anything now is as useless as trying to change the mind of a referee.
As of this morning, Eddie says the horse will run, “provided everything goes to plan in his upcoming assignments at Navan and Cheltenham”.
Even so, we are guessing as to his general performance level at this stage, not to mind the fact he will have to give a stone to Willie Mullins’ Irish National winner Burrows Saint, three years his junior.
Delta Work will not run but Gigginstown have others who very well might. However, at this stage I’d suggest backing Anibale Fly at 33/1 and Burrows Saint at 14/1. Let the Tiger roar.
At Dundalk this evening, The Truant looks a knocking each-way price at 7/1 in the Crowne Plaza Dundalk Race & Stay Maiden. Jessica Harrington’s hand might have been somewhat forced due to lack of other opportunities in handicaps, but the trip is certain to suit on pedigree.
Gowran hopes to race tomorrow but the forecast is not favourable. After the fog killed the spectacle for the racegoer on Thyestes day, it would be cruel luck were the weather to ruin the track’s second biggest day of the year, with some high-class steeds togging out.
Darasso may take on Tiger Roll in the Boyne Hurdle (1.50) if Gowran happens to abandon, as he is also declared for a cracking Red Mills Trial Hurdle (1.44); back him wherever he goes.