Tiger Roll – the pint-sized horse blessed with the huge heart
Tiger Roll was the pint-sized scrapper bred to win a Derby but more at home over the Aintree fences, where he established himself as a true National treasure.
As a son of 2007 Epsom hero Authorized and a half-brother to classy Flat types like Ahzeemah and Austrian School, John Ferguson would hardly have had Aintree in his mind when he bid 70,000 guineas for him as a foal in 2010.
Tiger Roll never made it to the track for Godolphin, going through the ring again in August 2013 when trainer Nigel Hawke forked out a mere £10,000 for the gelding, who more than recouped that outlay when changing hands again for £80,000 at the end of the year following a hurdles win at Market Rasen.
Sent to Gordon Elliott, he made his debut for Michael O’Leary’s Gigginstown House Stud in Ireland in Grade One company and just came up short behind Guitar Pete. But he turned that form around when winning the Triumph Hurdle in 2014 – a precursor to what lay ahead.
The bar is high for today's JCB Triumph Hurdle runners.
— Racing TV (@RacingTV) March 19, 2021
While he did return to Cheltenham for his first run the following season and left successful, a spell in the doldrums followed and like several Triumph winners before him, he appeared to have completely lost his way.
A well-beaten 50/1 chance in the 2015 Stayers’ Hurdle, connections would have been forgiven for sending him back to the sales.
However, they persevered, sending him over fences and he was soon off the mark, eventually bolting up in the Munster National at 20/1 that October, his eighth run since May but his first over three miles and fences, suggested he could excel in staying chases.
Two outings later he was a Cheltenham Festival winner once more in the National Hunt Chase when it was still over four miles, ridden by Lisa O’Neill, proving once and for all that stamina really was his forte.
Then it was on to Aintree where, as a three-time Festival winner already, he was among the favourites at 10/1 but the heavy ground was not supposed to be in his favour.
When Davy Russell cruised into the lead before the last fence he looked like being one of the easiest Grand National winners ever, but having gone by the Elbow with five lengths in hand, the petrol gauge was suddenly on empty and Willie Mullins’ Pleasant Company got to within a head at the line.
— Racing TV (@RacingTV) April 14, 2018
No longer would Tiger Roll be just another horse. If he never won again he would always have his name on Aintree’s famous roll of honour. Not since Red Rum, though, had any horse won the National more than once.
The following year would clearly be built around going back to Merseyside and the signs were ominous for the rest when he had his prep for the Glenfarclas Chase in the Boyne Hurdle – and won at 25/1.
It therefore should not have surprised anyone when he fairly bolted up at Cheltenham, by 22 lengths, and he headed to Aintree as a strong favourite.
This time, on better ground, Russell just had to avoid trouble and even off a 9lb-higher mark than 12 month earlier, he comfortably accounted for Magic Of Light to write his name into folklore.
However, fate intervened and as the coronavirus pandemic paralysed the world, the National was cancelled and with it went Tiger Roll’s hat-trick hopes.
O’Leary had not been totally convinced about an Aintree run, thinking the handicapper’s assessment of his star was harsh, and that has been the running theme since with neither party willing to meet the other’s expectations in what became a tiresome sub-plot.
He eventually did appear on Merseyside as connections seemingly sought to prove a point by running him in the Grade One Betway Bowl – an outing which unsurprisingly ended in abject defeat on his first run over conventional fences for four years.
A further reverse over park fences at Aintree in the Many Clouds Chase, when Tiger Roll never went a yard, resulted in a marginal move from the handicapper for the 2022 Grand National.
But just a few hours after Elliott expressed his hopes of taking up the challenge, O’Leary had vetoed the idea, calling his rating “absurd” and announcing the gelding would sign off at Cheltenham.
Tiger Roll may have been beaten in the race, but he certainly won the hearts of the public – the Godolphin cast-off who found his niche and secured his place in the racing Hall of Fame.
It will be quite some time before we see his like again.