Tiger Roll 'as enthusiastic as ever' as he bids for fifth festival victory
Glenfarclas Chase (Cross Country) | 3m6f | 5yo+ | ITV/RTV
Tiger Roll will forever be remembered as a Grand National great but the dual Aintree winner has a legitimate claim to be considered the best Cheltenham Festival horse of all time, too.
No other equine competitor has achieved such varied success at the festival. He won the 2014 Triumph Hurdle as a four-year-old, added the National Hunt Chase in 2017, and has landed two of the last three runnings of this. His only defeat in the race was when he came a good second last year.
His 17-length defeat by Easysland last season has been followed by three disappointing runs and that has prompted owners Gigginstown to rule out a third Grand National bid and conclude that "he's clearly not as good as he was". But is that true?
In simple terms, judged on Racing Post Ratings, the answer is probably yes. He has a career-best RPR of 174, achieved in the 2019 Grand National, and his best figure in five outings since is just 155. However, the evidence is insufficient to make a strong conclusion.
That RPR of 155 was achieved in this race last year, but there were excuses for his below-par run. The soft ground wouldn’t have been ideal and he was being prepared for a historic attempt to complete a Grand National hat-trick. It’s unlikely that he was trained to his peak.
His last three runs have been awful but one was in a 1m6f Flat maiden and the other a Grade 2 hurdle over an inadequate 2m5f, so it would be foolish to draw any firm judgments from those.
Tiger Roll was pulled up over course and distance in between, but he sweated up and the trainer’s representative reported afterwards that he never travelled or jumped with fluency.
That is another run that should be ignored and, with no Grand National on the agenda this year, Tiger Roll has been prepared to peak for this race. The vibes from the yard are good, so maybe this will give us a definitive answer to whether he is on the wane.
Easysland is the reigning champion but his victory over Tiger Roll last season was achieved on testing ground and he was turned over when 8-11 favourite at this course in November.
That came after 247 days off on ground (good) that would have been quicker than ideal, but there is a chance conditions could dry out again and he has not had a prep run.
French trainers generally believe in giving horses a pipe-opener before a big race and the best example comes in the Classics on the Flat. Leading French three-year-olds will almost always have run at least once, and often twice, before going on to compete in a Classic.
In 2019, Easysland had run in France in October and November before scoring over course and distance in December and last year he won a Listed chase at Pau in February before coming on to land this race. That suggests he may not have had an ideal preparation.
One final angle is a pedigree pointer. Since 2011, 11 of the 30 cross-country chases at Cheltenham have been won by a horse sired by either King’s Theatre (six) or Milan (five).
Balthazar King won four times for King’s Theatre, but Kingswell Theatre recorded the other two wins and he won the race in which Easysland and Tiger Roll were beaten in November.
Race analysis by Graeme Rodway
'It's not every day you get a festival ride'
Felix De Giles is hoping his decision to miss key meetings in France pays off when he teams up with short-priced favourite Easysland.
The British-born jockey had to quarantine on arrival in Britain for five days and will self-isolate for a further seven when he returns to France, where he rode 36 winners from 351 runners in 2020.
The chance to partner last year's winner was too good an offer to decline for De Giles, who won the 2009 Martin Pipe with Andytown.
"It wasn't an easy decision to come as I've missed a few winners in France already so I hope this one pays off," said De Giles. "It's not every day you get to ride a favourite at the Cheltenham Festival.
"I love riding in cross-country races and do particularly well in them in France. I've hit the crossbar in this one a few times. I was second to Tiger Roll in 2018 so it would be great to go one better this time.
Easysland was a comfortable winner last season but he was beaten on his sole start this season, finishing fourth to Kingswell Theatre.
"I wasn't disappointed with his last start," added De Giles. "He had to give away a lot of weight on testing ground. He was impressive last season and when I sat on him the other morning he felt well."
What they say
Denise Foster, trainer of Alpha Des Obeaux, Out Sam and Tiger Roll
We haven’t seen the best of Tiger Roll this season, but at home he looks well and is as enthusiastic as ever. Out Sam has run well in a number of these races and might have a sporting chance of picking up some prize-money. Alpha Des Obeaux hasn’t looked in love with the game and this sort of a test might give him a new lease of life.
Henry de Bromhead, trainer of Balko Des Flos
He’s a very good horse on his day and gave us a great day in the 2018 Ryanair. We’re hoping this change of scenery might bring about a resurgence in form.
Charlie Mann, trainer of Defi Des Carres
He was robbed on the line over course and distance in December. He goes on any ground and is in good form. We sent him chasing but he's a cross-country horse and we've been waiting for the race.
Jamie Snowden, trainer of Hogan's Height
He bolted up in the Grand Sefton last year and took to these fences like a duck to water when we schooled him. He's got plenty of stamina and has a chance competing off level weights.
Ben Case, trainer of Kings Temptation
He ran around here in the autumn and will have learnt a lot from the experience. He had a nice blowout on the all-weather the other day and has schooled well. He may have an outside each-way chance.
Michael Scudamore, trainer of Kingswell Theatre
We could do with the ground drying out a bit more. The race has an open look to it this year taking out the favourite and he loves it here.
Ben Pauling, trainer of Le Breuil
He has some good form in the book but has been in the wilderness a bit since winning the National Hunt Chase. He's run well in defeat this year and he was electric schooling over the fences ten days ago.
John McConnell, trainer of Some Neck
The top two in the market set the standard so realistically we're playing for third spot. He's in great form and had a nice spin over hurdles at Punchestown, which should leave him spot on for this.
Charlie Longsdon, trainer of Vivas
He didn't quite get up the hill at the November meeting. He's got to be ridden to get the trip but hopefully he can run a nice race.
Reporting by Jonathan Harding
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