Tiger Roll roars to third festival win as Donoghue wins war with the scales
One year after announcing he would take a break from riding due to weight issues, a decision which cost him a first Cheltenham Festival victory on Labaik, Keith Donoghue made amends by guiding the plucky Tiger Roll to Cross Country glory.
Donoghue, 24, who returned to the saddle in May last year, wages a unceasing battle with the scales and runs countless miles to keep the pounds off, but the constant sacrifice was worth it for what the jockey called "the best feeling in the world".
He said: "I lost 8lb to ride this horse because my weight hasn't been great recently. It's worth it today. It's a dream come true after last year, missing the winner on Labaik was very hard to take. This might not be a Grade 1 but it's every bit as good to me.
"I've given up three or four times because of my weight, but Gordon [Elliott] always pulls me back and gives me rides when I can do the weight. If it wasn't for Gordon I wouldn't be standing here. This day last year I was 12st 7lb; today I'm 11st 2lb."
Tiger Roll has become something of a cult hero among the Cheltenham crowd, who have now seen him win three different races at the festival.
Those races could scarcely be a less likely treble – being the two-mile Triumph Hurdle in 2014, the four-mile National Hunt Chase last year, and now the idiosyncratic Cross Country – but Tiger Roll continues to defy his diminutive size and seems to relish whatever challenge is thrown at him.
"The secret to him seems to be there's no distance too far – the further he goes the better he is," said Michael O'Leary of owners Gigginstown.
"I thought he had no chance today because he's really a good-ground horse. He's only a small horse, he's a little rat of a thing, but he's got a heart of a lion."
Tiger Roll took things up five out and was travelling the best of the small band who saw out the three miles six furlongs in stamina-sapping conditions, although French raider Urgent De Gregaine more than justified the trip over by emerging much the best of the rest as a two-length runner-up, with Aintree-bound The Last Samuri running a fine National prep in third.
"You watch these things and you see the battalions of McManus horses and Enda Bolger horses coming and you think, 'Ah well, you know we had a nice run and then JP wins'," added O'Leary. "I'm just surprised and delighted, delighted for Keith and delighted for Gordon and all the team."
Cause Of Causes, like Tiger Roll trained by Elliott and last year's winner, could never get into the race and was pulled up.
Seven others were also pulled up, while the only faller was Bless The Wings, whose rider Davy Russell – earlier successful on Presenting Percy – was stood down for the rest of the day. He was sore and must pass the doctor on Thursday but hopes to be fit to ride.
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