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.

Cheltenham Festival vs The Grand National

The week before last my sleeping hours were just about night owl-like enough that I managed to stay up to watch the Tyson Fury vs Wilder fight, beamed live from Vegas. Predictions beforehand were very much up in the air, would Fury’s rope a dope style see him through, would Wilder land one of his ‘lights out’ punches that he’s notorious for? As it turned out Fury continued confounding critics by being the one with the dominant display and power. But I got to thinking, why should it always be people squaring up to each each. Who would win a fight and what would the tale of the tape be between the Grand National and the Cheltenham Festival. Well what we we waiting for.. Let’s get ready to rumble!

The Cheltenham Festival certainly has a lot going for it. Four days of quality racing action, with 28 races in total, are nothing short of a gift to those who like a bet or two (or three!). The on-course atmosphere is second to none, with the trademark Cheltenham Roar being let out by the crowd at the start of the first race. With such prestigious races such as the Cheltenham Gold Cup, Arkle Challenge Trophy and Champion Hurdle the action is relentless. Many horses have made their name at the Festival, such as Golden Miller (who won the Gold Cup three times in the 30s) as well as Arkle and Best Mate who matched it decades later. Prize money is substantial; a £625,000 purse for the Gold Cup in 2019 for instance, and TV viewing figures are impressive considering the spread of races over days. In 2018 11 races drew in more than a million viewers.

The Grand National speaks for itself. Held in Aintree, Liverpool each year bar one since 1839, it’s a legend maker of a race. It’s one race that creates ‘water cooler’ moments by getting everyone talking and involved, whether via placing a bet online, following tips for the Grand National or having a friendly wager with mates. The most successful horse ever in the Grand National is likely also the exact same answer you’d most frequently get if you randomly asked strangers to name a horse. It’s none other than three time Grand National winner Red Rum. While Tiger Roll may do his best to steal his crowd this year, Red Rum has certainly done more than enough to secure his place in the racing history books.

Domestic viewing figures for the Grande National have been known to touch an impressive ten million, and a worldwide audience of between 500 and 600 million. Even outside of racing not many sporting audiences can rival that, which must tell you something.

So who has wins this tussle between these two highlights of the racing year? Well Cheltenham was on the ropes there for a minute due to the astounding Grand National viewing figures, but this has to be weighed up against the four day feast of racing that the festival offers. I hate to be a bore but it’s a close run thing, and as such much like the first Fury vs Wilder fight, I’m going to have to declare this one a DRAW! Depending on how each pan out in 2020, we may be due a rematch in the near future!

Cheltenham Gold Cup 2015

The 2015 Cheltenham Gold Cup had the distinction of being the last to feature A.P. McCoy, who retired after the Bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown the following month. Sadly, there was to be no ‘last hurrah’ for the perennial champion jockey, who never threatened aboard 12/1 chance Carlingford Lough and trailed in ninth of the eleven finishers, beaten 28 lengths.

Coincidentally, 10/1 fifth choice in the betting market, Djakadam, was trained by another perennial champion, Willie Mullins, who also saddled On His Own and Boston Bob in an attempt to win the ‘Blue Riband’ event for the first time. However, like McCoy, the Co. Carlow handler – who was, and still is, the dominant force in Irish National Hunt force – was out of luck and, not for the first time in his career, had to settle for second place. Silviniaco Conti, trained by Paul Nicholls, officially had 7lb and upwards in hand of his rivals and looked a worthy favourite, at 3/1, after taking an unlucky fall in the 2013 renewal and finishing a close fourth in 2014.

Nevertheless, the ‘big guns’ were upstaged by the eight year-old, Coneygree, trained in the smaller, more traditional yard of Mark Bradstock, near Wantage, Oxfordshire and having his first season over fences. Despite his inexperience, Coneygree was soon at the head of affairs, jumping well under his regular partner Nico De Boinville, and made all the running to win by 1½ lengths. Djakadam stayed on to go second on the run-in and Road To Riches, trained by Noel Meade, finished third, a further 2 lengths away.

Winning trainer Mark Bradstock, who is the son-in-law of the late John Lawrence, a.k.a. Lord Oaksey, who bred Coneygree, described the victory as ‘wonderful’. In fact, Coneygree became the first novice to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup since the seven-year-old Captain Christy, trained by Pat Taaffe, in 1974.

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