Cheltenham ready to roar as Grand National hero Tiger Roll returns to action
Glenfarclas Cross Country Handicap Chase | 3m6f, 5yo+ | ITV4/RUK
The cheese wedges, hedges and banks that comprise Cheltenham’s cross-country course have not always been treated with the greatest admiration but complaints are likely to be thin on the ground as the idiosyncratic track hosts the return of one of jump racing’s brightest stars on the opening day of the November meeting.
Small in stature, Tiger Roll has been punching well above his weight for years and the Cheltenham specialist returns to action for the first time since toppling the biggest jumps race in the world in April, as the Grand National hero goes for a second win over course and distance.
In some respect, what went before Aintree and what happens next is largely immaterial when you have conquered the National, but there is no denying Tiger Roll is a lion at Cheltenham, a track at which he boasts three festival wins.
The first of those came in the 2014 Triumph Hurdle. Three years later he landed the 4m National Hunt Chase and earlier this year he defeated his rivals over this track in the cross-country race in March under jockey Keith Donoghue, who rides again here.
“Tiger Roll is in great form for his return at a track where he has done so well over the years,” said trainer Gordon Elliott. “Despite all he has achieved he is only eight and we're looking at this race as the first step towards a possible bid for a second Grand National win.
"We'll probably stick to the cross-country route before deciding about Aintree.”
Stablemate Bless The Wings is another with winning form over Cheltenham’s cross-country course and Elliott turns to top amateur Jamie Codd for the ride.
“Bless The Wings has been a Cheltenham regular and has plenty of good form over the course,” said Elliott. “He's 13 but seems in good order. He was third behind Tiger Roll in the Grand National and we'll see how things go with him over the coming months.
"Aintree could again be on the agenda, and possibly the Pardubicka too.”
Orders under orders again
In a race where the Irish outnumber the Brits five to two, cross-country specialist Enda Bolger sends another Cheltenham favourite into battle, with past festival winner Josies Orders making his seventh appearance at Cheltenham and sixth on the cross-country course.
Bolger said: “He's a three-time Cheltenham winner and had a prep run for this over hurdles at Galway. We're hoping for a good run but it's a hot contest with an Aintree National winner in the line-up.”
The Peter Fahey-trained Bay Of Freedom has a first try at the cross-country discipline after two poor runs this season, while Gearoid O'Loughlin hopes the challenge will rejuvenate Jarob, who has not won for three years.
Longsdon and Snowden represent home team
Trying to fend off the Irish invasion are Charlie Longsdon’s Midnight Shot and the Jamie Snowden-trained Fact Of The Matter.
Having won at Fakenham and Cartmel in the past, Midnight Shot has a taste for idiosyncratic tracks and schooled well on this course earlier in the week.
“He’s becoming one for quirky little races,” said Longsdon. “He’s a character and went round the cross-country course on Monday and jumped well. He’s very neat and tidy with his jumping and, as long as he takes to it on the day, he should be fine. He likes decent ground so there should be no problem there either.”
Fact Of The Matter got no further than the seventh fence in an eventful Durham National last time but was none the worse for that fall according to his trainer.
Snowden said: "He stays well and this race has been in the back of my mind for a while. It’s a shame Tiger Roll runs as it puts us 3lb out of the handicap, but he had a good school round those fences last week and seemed to enjoy it."
Despite watering over the past ten days, the going on the cross-country course was described as good, good to firm in places on Thursday.
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