The question currently on almost everyone’s lips is “Has Tiger Roll lost his roar?”, the two-time Grand National winner putting in what can only be described as a tame display – at least by the ordinary standards of the runner – in the Cross Country race at the Cheltenham Festival yesterday.
There are always excuses and yesterday was no exception, however the harsh realities are that Tiger Roll finished as a clearly tired horse and he will need to reach peak condition in a little over three weeks should he wish to win the Grand National for a third consecutive time.
The Cross Country is a slow burning contest and those who had made him odds-on will have been happy enough as the Gordon Elliott-trained runner plodded along within easy reach of the frontrunners for the first two or three miles, looking his usual menacing self.
The danger was clearly still in front as everyone in the stands was only too aware and Keith Donoghue – who rides Tiger Roll at this venue – sent his mount in pursuit with just a couple of obstacles to go and there was still hope at the final bend where he had three lengths to make up.
This proved to be his closest challenge and while in the past he has had plenty in reserve as he powered up the final climb, this time around he was clearly drunk with fatigue and he finished some distance behind the winner.
Donoghue said: “He ran his heart out. We were always afraid of the ground and that’s what got him beat. Every time he hit heavy patches, we’d just struggle. When he came back out on to a bit of nice ground, he’d come back on the bridle again. That just told in the end. I thought, going over the last three hedges, I had every chance but the winner was very good on the day and we were beat fair and square.”
Indeed Tiger Roll was led straight to the stables after the race as opposed to being unsaddled with the other horses, however he was similarly tired when winning the Cross Country two years ago.
Tiger Roll is something of a veteran, however trainer Gordon Elliott believes that the horse’s relatively late return to training is the reason for his less-than-impressive showing. He also felt that the ground was far from suitable and he had made his concerns clear before the race.
Elliott said: “Listen, you’re always disappointed when you don’t win but we said it before the race, the ground was the big worry. In fairness to the jockey on the winner, he gave his horse a very good ride, he took the sting out of us.”
Pressed as to whether or not he believed that this was a satisfactory preparation for the Randox Health Grand National, Elliott said: “We’ll have to see how he is.”
The bookmakers aren’t running as scared as they were with regard to the two-time Grand National winner, most firms lengthening their odds to as much as 8/1 following his disappointing showing at Prestbury Park.