There are many people out there who would argue that Tiger Roll is already a Cheltenham legend, regardless of what happens in the future. However, talk is mounting that the dual Grand National winner will aim to win his third Cross Country Chase at Cheltenham in 2020, which would be his fifth victory at the festival from six appearances. His only failure was when he was thrown in at the deep end as a five year old in the 2015 Stayers’ Hurdle, since then he has been foot perfect at this famous venue.
To those who are not hugely invested in the sport of racing, they are likely to see this horse as a dual Grand National winner, and nothing else. After all, that is the race that captures the attention of pretty much everyone in the UK, and it is seen as the biggest race of them all to win. However, purists will know and understand what it takes to win at the festival, never mind to win five times across three different races.
His success in the 2019 Cross Country Chase will go down as one of the best moments of the most recent festival, and seeing him come away from the field to win by 22 lengths on the bridle is something that many people will not forget for a long time. The scenes after the race showed just how much this horse means to both those who look after him on a daily basis and the fans who turned up in their thousands to watch him perform.
The one thing that could make next year even more special is retirement. After winning the Grand National in April, owner Michael O’Leary said that he would love for this horse to go and win the Cross Country Chase for a third time, before announcing his retirement in the Cheltenham winners enclosure. Those betting on horse racing at the Cheltenham Festival next year are sure to be placing bets on Tiger Roll to win again, knowing that it could be the last time we see the horse on a race track if O’Leary’s comments are to be believed. This may be a case where there is no strategy required, and people will simply bet with their hearts.
Bowing out at Cheltenham would be fitting for two different reasons. The first is that this horse would go out at a place that was special to him. Win or lose, this horse has won multiple races at the Cheltenham Festival and to retire after running their would be a great farewell for him. The second would be to see him go out at the top, running in a race at the biggest and best horse racing festival over jumps.
We all want to see superstars run for as long as possible, but there is a fine line between going out on top when there is more to give and running them for too long and seeing them decline. After giving us so many happy memories over the years, it would be great to see Tiger Roll do his thing one more time for us, before we allow him to leave for a very happy retirement.
Not many owners can say that their first success at the Cheltenham Festival came in the blue riband of the National Hunt season, the Cheltenham Gold Cup, but one who can is Michael O’Leary, the proprietor of Gigginstown House Stud. His maroon and white colours were first carried to victory by War Of Attrition, trained by Michael “Mouse” Morris, in 2006 and, since then, O’Leary has recorded 25 more wins, making him the second most successful owner in the history of the Cheltenham Festival, behind J.P. McManus.
O’Leary won the Cheltenham Gold Cup again in 2016 with Don Cossack, trained by Gordon Elliott, but it was seven winners at the Cheltenham Festival in 2018 – far and away the best year, so far, for Gigginstown House Stud – that caused him to remark, “When I die, this is the week I’ll remember.”
Despite the defeat of one Irish ‘banker’, Apple’s Jade in the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle, his seven winners included another, Samcro in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle and, finally, after 15 years of trying, he won the Ryanair Chase – the race he sponsors, as chief executive of the Irish low-cost airline – with Balko Des Flos, trained by Henry De Bromhead. Unsurprisingly, Gigginstown House Stud won the Leading Owner Award at the Cheltenham Festival, beating J.P. McManus into second place for the second year running.
O’Leary still has some way to go to catch McManus, but Gigginstown House Stud is, undoubtedly, a dominant force in Irish National Hunt racing. Principal trainer Gordon Elliott – who has saddled 11 of the 19 winners owned by Gigginstown House Stud at the last five Cheltenham Festivals and won the Leading Trainer Award in 2017 and 2018 – continues to flourish, so there appears no reason why O’Leary cannot make further inroads into McManus’ lead in the years to come.