The racing career of Tiger Roll, the Grand National winner in 2018 and 2019, is shrouded in doubt after an uncharacteristically listless display in the Glenfarclas Cross-Country Chase here on Friday, which prompted Robbie Power to pull up on the 10-year-old with more than a mile still to run.
Tiger Roll was giving lumps of weight to most of his rivals and running over jumps for the first time since March, but his performance was clearly still a long way below expectations, not least after his run on the Flat in Ireland last month to set him up for Friday’s race.
Related: Talking Horses: handicapper explains ‘impossible task’ set for Tiger Roll
“He was never travelling,” Power, who was riding Tiger Roll for the first time, reported afterwards. “He never had a cut at his fences. I pulled him up because he was never in a rhythm.”
Tiger Roll was 4-1 favourite with Ladbrokes for the Grand National next April before Friday’s race, but was taken out of the firm’s betting entirely afterwards as Eddie O’Leary, racing manager to the gelding’s owner, Michael O’Leary, admitted that a similar display next time would almost certainly see Tiger Roll retired.
“It’s obviously disappointing but maybe age is catching up with him,” O’Leary said. “Generally, you’d like to give him a run over hurdles [next] to put a smile on his face, but that was a very poor run today. I hope Gordon [Elliott, his trainer] can put a smile on his face, he’s done it before, but if he ran like that again, you’d be pulling up stumps.”
Elliott sounded equally despondent after Friday’s race, for which his gelding set off as the 4-1 second-favourite.
“He’s not getting any younger and he’s had a hard couple of seasons,” Elliott said, “so we’ll have to all have a talk and see what we do now going forward.
He’s been in good form at home, but he never travelled a yard today and the writing was on the wall after two or three fences, to be honest.
“Obviously, the dream would be to go back and win another Grand National, but he was very disappointing today. I’ll have to talk to Michael and Eddie and the whole team to see what we’ll do, but the ground was perfect, everything was right, there was no excuse.”
Friday’s race was a handicap and Tiger Roll was carrying top weight of 11st 12lb, 4lb more than Easysland, who beat him by 17 lengths off level weights over the same course and distance in March. He was also giving at least 20lb to the remainder of the field, including Kingswell Theatre, the eventual winner, and Potters Corner, who took the Welsh National in December.
As a two-time winner of the Grand National, Tiger Roll is certain to carry plenty of weight at Aintree should he line up there next April, but O’Leary – a regular critic of the gelding’s current handicap mark – took the opportunity to appeal for a re-appraisal of Tiger Roll’s rating.
“They’ll have to review it,” O’Leary said. “It will have to be readjusted, it’s crazy and it always has been crazy, but now it’s completely crazy.”
The pattern of recent seasons has seen Tiger Roll run in the Boyne Hurdle at Navan in mid-February before going to the Cross-Country Chase at the Festival and then aiming towards Aintree. For the moment, though, his racing career is on hold.
“He usually gets warm beforehand but he definitely got warmer than normal, so maybe he was feeling something or he picked up a bit of a chill going over,” Elliott said. “We’ll just have to get him home now to see if he’s okay.”
Saturday’s tips, by Chris Cook
Bad weather has become a feature of Paddy Power Gold Cup day in recent years and more of the same is in the forecast, which could turn Saturday’s Cheltenham highlight into quite a test. It might not be much fun for an inexperienced runner like Saint Sonnet but Domaine De L’Isle (2.15) should roll through it and a good each-way case can be made for the outsider, available at 40-1 at the time of going to press.
He flourished last season, his first full winter here after arriving from France, winning three on the bounce. Beating Bennys King and Happy Diva at Ascot suggests that, despite his odds, he belongs in this company and his rating is only 6lb higher.
From the in-form Sean Curran yard that caused a 66-1 shock in the 2008 Scottish National, he will be sharper for a respectable spin over hurdles here last month. He can make the most of the weight concession from the likes of Slate House and Al Dancer, who should both be involved.
1.40 Cheltenham Fusil Raffles lost his form last season when stepped up in class on soft ground, which makes him opposable here. Quel Destin was similarly talented over hurdles, goes on soft and his trainer has a fine record in this race.
2.50 Cheltenham There was support last night for Mrs Milner, an Irish raider whose recent efforts suggest she’s on a lenient rating. She was given too much to do at Ballinrobe last time. Robbie Power replaces a claimer in the saddle.
3.05 Lingfield This ought to be straightforward for Dubai Warrior, who is five from six on all-weather surfaces and was a commanding winner of the Winter Derby. This is his first run since a turf flop in July so his fitness must be taken on trust.
3.25 Cheltenham Softening ground is not great news for Captain Tom Cat, a winner here in October, and tilts things in favour of Whatsupwithyou, a close-up seventh that day. A better effort can be expected after that first outing since March.
3.40 Lingfield Another one with a high strike-rate on the sand, Good Effort has already won at this level around here and gets weight from the only one of his rivals with a higher rating, Judicial. A successful reappearance in a handicap 10 days ago should have teed him up nicely.
3.55 Cheltenham The best form here is held by Elle Est Belle, a very taking winner on her debut at Aintree three weeks ago. The runner-up had been an easy winner on her only previous run.