An Ode To Tiger Roll: A Horse For The Ages

An Ode To Tiger Roll: A Horse For The Ages
By Aonghus Ó Maicín
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For a horse once referred to as "a little rat of a thing" by his owner, Michael O'Leary, Tiger Roll has come good. Very, very good.

The 4/1 price may have seemed like outrageously short before the race - predicting the lottery, they joke, is easier after all - but ultimately the nine-year-old lived up to his reputation, romping home in front of the stands, without ever giving backers a reason for worry. The Grand National may be somewhat of a lottery, but its winner had given us the winning numbers this season. Everything is so much clearer in hindsight, and yet we should have seen this coming.

Things didn't always look so rosy for the back-to-back National winner, though.

There were big things expected from the offspring of Authorized - a former Epsom Derby winner - but his early career didn't exactly give us cause to stop and take notice and his initial trainer Niger Hawke sold him to Gordon Elliott for what now looks like a measly €80,000, making a €70,000 profit on his initial investment.

Although winning on his first and only start for Hawke, it wasn't until the 2014 Cheltenham Festival that the Gigginstown star began to make a name for himself, drawing clear in the Triumph Hurdle to win his first of four wins at the annual event.

At the 2015 Festival, a relatively unexposed five-year-old Tiger Roll faded away towards the back of the field in the Stayers' Hurdle - known then as the World Hurdle - leading many to predict that the horse was nothing more than an average plodder for modest handicaps. Risible, looking back from here.

Because after taking a hiatus away from the 2016 Festival, Tiger Roll has returned from every Festival since with a win - one in the Amateur Riders' Novices' Chase and two in the Cross Country Chase, his win this year in the latter being the most impressive of all.


Though the star is far from being considered an old horse, this year's run in the Cotswolds has shown he's ageing like the finest of wines; cantering home 22 lengths ahead of Josies Orders, he registered arguably the finest performance of the four-day event, high on drama as it always is. That's an achievement in itself.

At the time, some commentators - perhaps jokingly - suggested the tiger with the heart of a lion would be capable of taking a tilt at the Gold Cup. As mad as it sounds, it wouldn't be the most preposterous thing to have ever happened in the sport. And what started off as a joke is now gradually becoming a topic for serious discussion.

It begs the question: where next for the biggest star in the sport?


Does Elliott prepare him for another tilt at the 'big one' in Liverpool next year, squeezing the Cross Country Chase at Cheltenham into the campaign?


Or does he decide to be ambitious?

If he decides to go with the latter, what constitutes ambitious?


Bear in mind, he was almost caught at the line in last year's Grand National by Pleasant Company; this year, he looked to have had enough reserves in the lungs to take on another couple of those monstrous obstacles.

If the trajectory of development continues, he should bolt home with the rest of the field out of shot in 12 months' time, regardless of whatever weight he carries. The O'Learys will play down his future - that's the O'Learys: they play down horses and they change their mind.

As for punters hoping to plot his next campaign while value remains in the market, there will be enough head-scratching to bring about permanent bald spots. When it comes to versatility, no other horse in the game comes remotely close to the Gigginstown star.


As effortless over hurdles as he is over fences, Tiger Roll is the equine equivalent to the lovechild of Jesse Owens and Bo Jackson, a modern-day Pegasus. There ain't no mountain high enough for Marvin Gaye; there ain't no fence high enough to cause Tiger Roll even a modicum of uncertainty.

Take this year's campaign, for instance.

Prior to a thrilling performance at Cheltenham over nearly four miles with the unique Cross Country obstacles, the darling of Cullentra Stables eased to victory in the Grade Two Boyne Hurdle at Navan just over two-and-a-half miles. To arrive at Aintree less than two months later, jumping some obstacles that are over five feet tall and six feet wide, is like a marathon runner converting to a sprint hurdle race.

And to do it successfully at this level is simply unheard of.

For the casual punter - or even the seasoned racegoer - still reeling from winnings or losings, the significance of the achievement can be lost in the maelstrom the most popular race of the year generates, but when all is said and done taking stock of what Tiger Roll actually did is staggering, for want of a better word yet to be coined.

Maybe the Gold Cup at Cheltenham is too ambitious. Maybe not. By all accounts, to predict what's in store for the horse would be a fool's errand.

But the legendary status can already be bestowed on him, because this horse will be remembered for years, for decades, for generations - the story with outlive us all. The name has already secured a berth among the greats and, promisingly for all of us still alive, he has the scope to reach a higher echelon again.

In one of the most riveting and most unpredictable stories the sport has ever provided, Tiger Roll still has a few chapters left to regale us with.

SEE ALSO: Watch: Emotional Davy Russell Dedicates Grand National Success To Former Cork Star

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