Tiger Roll

Of course, Tiger Roll became a household name when, in April, 2019, he became the first horse since the legendary Red Rum, in 1974, to record back-to-back victories in the Grand National. However, even before his first attempt in the Aintree marathon in 2018, Tiger Roll had made a name for himself at the Cheltenham Festival. In 2014, he won the Grade One Triumph Hurdle over 2 miles and 79 yards on the New Course at Prestbury Park, in 2016, after being switched to steeplechasing, he won the National Hunt Challenge Cup over 3 miles 7 furlongs and 147 yards on the Old Course and, in 2018, he won the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase over 3 miles 6 furlongs on the Cross Country Course. In 2019, Tiger Roll confirmed himself as a true Cheltenham Festival ‘legend’ when making light of a 9lb rise in the weights to win the same race again, by 22 lengths from the 2016 winner, Josies Orders.

Interestingly, Tiger Roll was originally owned by Sheikh Mohammed, but has only ever contested one Flat race – a 2-mile maiden race at Dundalk, in which he finished second – and, even then, only as a six-year-old, in 2016, by which time he had long been in the care of his current trainer, Gordon Elliot. He was bought by Michael O’Leary, the owner of Gigginstown House Stud, after making a winning debut for his previous trainer, Nigel Hawke, and was sent to Elliott as a likely contender for the Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival. Tiger Roll exceeded expectations by not only contesting, but winning, the Triumph Hurdle on just his second start for his new connections.

The rest, as they say, is history. Despite being ‘a little rat of a thing’, according to his owner – Tiger Roll is diminutive, especially for a steeplechaser, at fewer than 16 hands – after a spell in the doldrums, the Authorized gelding found fame over the larger obstacles and, at least so far, has never fallen. Admirable though Tiger Roll is, O’Leary is on the record as saying that he is very unlikely to attempt to emulate Red Rum by running in the Grand National again in 2020. His ‘swansong’ may well be the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase, once again, in which victory would be his fifth at the Cheltenham Festival.

Paul Nicholls

It would be fair to say that Paul Nicholls has bought more than one new pair of trousers since weighing in, at 10st 5lb, on Broadheath in the Hennessy Gold Cup in 1986. However, Nicholls retired as a jockey three years later, due to weight problems and, ultimately, to a broken leg sustained when he was kicked by a horse during morning exercise and has since become the foremost National Hunt trainer of his generation.

Nicholls spent two years as assistant trainer to David Barons, to whom he had previously been stable jockey, before responding to an advertisement placed in the Sporting Life by Paul Barber, owner and landlord of Manor Farm Stables in Ditcheat, near Shepton Mallet, Somerset. Nicholls took out a training licence in his own right and became tenant of the former dairy farming facility, with a string of just eight horses, in November, 1991. After a modest start, he gradually increased his winning tally, year-by-year, but enjoyed his real ‘breakthrough’ season in 1998/99, when he saddled over 100 winners and won over £1 million in prize money for the first time.

Indeed, it was during the 1998/99 season that Nicholls saddled his first Cheltenham Festival winner, or winners, namely Flagship Uberalles in the Arkle Challenge Trophy, Call Equiname in the Queen Mother Champion Chase and See More Business in the Cheltenham Gold Cup. That high-profile treble was sufficient to win the leading trainer award for the first time and, although he would not saddle another Cheltenham Festival winner until 2003, he won the award again in 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009.

Fast forward a decade or so and Nicholls has saddled at least one winner at the Cheltenham Festival every year since 2003 and his career total of 45 winners makes him the third most successful trainer, behind only Willie Mullins and Nicky Henderson, in the history of the famous March meeting. Highlights of his training including winning the Cheltenham Gold Cup three more times, with Kauto Star in 2007 and 2009 and Denman in 2008 and, of course, winning the Stayers’ Hurdle four years running with Big Buck’s in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012.

Willie Mullins

Willie Mullins is the son of the late Paddy Mullins, who saddled the legendary mare Dawn Run to win the Champion Hurdle in 1984 and the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 1986. However, although he had won the Champion Hurdle four times, with Hurricane Fly (twice), Faugheen and Annie Power, Willie Mullins had ‘hit the woodwork’ in the Cheltenham Gold Cup so many times prior to the 2019 renewal that he had all but resigned himself to never winning the ‘Blue Riband’ event. Nevertheless, after six second-place finishes, Mullins finally claimed his first win in the Cheltenham Gold Cup when Al Boum Photo – only third choice of his four runners in the betting market – stayed on strongly from the final fence to beat Anibale Fly by 2½ lengths.

Mullins has still yet to win yet the Queen Mother Champion Chase, but Al Boum Photo was one of four winners for his Co. Carlow yard which, along with seven placed finishers, were enough to edge out Nicky Henderson and win Mullins the leading trainer award for the sixth time in his career. Indeed, Mullins remains the most successful trainer in the history of the Cheltenham Festival with 65 winners, although he is just one winner ahead of Nicky Henderson.

Mullins saddled his first Cheltenham Festival winner, Tourist Attraction, in 1995, but has really come into his own since winning the leading trainer award for the first time in 2011. He missed out to his old rival, Nicky Henderson, in 2012, but was leading trainer again in 2013, 2014, 2015 – the year in which he saddled a record eight winners over the four days – and 2016. Aside from his victories in the Champion Hurdle and, more recently, the Cheltenham Gold Cup, Mullins has also won the Stayers’ Hurdle twice, with Nichols Canyon and Penhill. Of course, Mullins can no longer rely on the services of his former stable jockey, Ruby Walsh, who retired in May, 2019, so what the effects that might have remain to be seen.

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