Given what we have seen from him in the last 12 months, there is more chance of me running the London Marathon in under two hours than there is of Tiger Roll winning a Grand National off a mark of 166.
Connections have yet to confirm categorically whether he will run in the race or not, and that is entirely their prerogative, but to my mind it doesn’t matter now because he can’t win the race anyway.
Given the way Tiger Roll won the 2019 Grand National off 159, you could be forgiven for thinking that an 7lb higher mark isn’t insurmountable.
However, Tiger Roll is now 11 years old and, while being of that age hasn’t prevented the likes of Neptune Collonges, Auroras Encore and Pineau De Re being successful this century, it has become increasingly apparent that Tiger Roll is some way off being at the peak of his powers, something that he would have to be to win off 166.
Since winning the 2019 Grand National he has raced four times and been beaten on each occasion. Moreover, he has looked a pale shadow of his former self in two runs this winter. If he turned up at Aintree in the same form as he did at Cheltenham in November then he wouldn’t win a Grand National off a mark of 66, never mind 166 (yes, I know he wouldn’t get in the race off 66).
Tiger Roll’s best run since 2019 was his 17-length second behind Easysland in the 2020 Cross Country Chase. That is 17 lengths off level weights. Yet the handicapper thinks Tiger Roll can finish upsides Easysland in a Grand National carrying just 1lb less (Easysland given mark of 167).
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Barring a Lazarus-like comeback, the only way Tiger Roll can do that now is on a motorbike. But, get this – Tiger Roll is FAVOURITE to win the 2021 Grand National. You couldn’t make it up.
I might be in a minority, but I sympathise with Michael and Eddie O'Leary who have been very public in their frustration over Tiger Roll’s handicap mark and the pompous nature in which some sections of the racing media have railed against them is almost laughable.
At the end of the day, it is a form of lobbying, albeit an often hostile one, and there are no laws against that. Sure, such threats may not be to everyone’s taste, but at the end of the day, if people really are as tired as they say they are of this type of rhetoric then why report on it in the first place?
Personally, I think connections are well within their rights to voice their displeasure over Tiger Roll’s handicap mark – this year more than any other. I may be wrong here, but I don’t see this as them trying to gain an advantage, they genuinely feel aggrieved about the rating of Tiger Roll and this year, more than any other, I agree with them.
So, why shouldn’t connections go public with their frustration at the assessor’s reluctance to drop the horse significantly? In all walks of life, people vent their displeasure at things that affect them so why should we expect owners to be any different?
This sport needs characters as much as any other and I for one am grateful for high-profile owners that come out fighting when they feel wronged. Racing’s establishment should never be immune from criticism.
Champ move a brave one given the potential pitfalls
The decision to drop Gold Cup hopeful Champ back to 2m for this weekend’s rearranged Game Spirit Chase at Newbury could prove an inspired one.
Nicky Henderson has trained 62 Cheltenham Festival winners, one of which was Champ, and you get the feeling that connections think that they have a genuine shot at Gold Cup glory with this fellow despite his somewhat unorthodox preparation.
On the face of it, dropping the head-strong Champ back to 2m for his first start in ages looks a shrewd move, especially as he will be taking on a lesser quality of horse than he would have done in the Denman Chase, even though they are both Grade 2 contests.
However, it’s Champ’s jumping that is the real issue here. His fencing got progressively more suspect as he went through the grades last season and that are of his game is the one that could hold him back.
The tempo of the Game Spirit Chase is going to be a few notches sharper than that of the Denman Chase and that will put further pressure on his jumping. Gold Cup aspirations could go up in smoke if he ends up on the deck but the flip side is that a slick round should really sharpen him up for next month.
It’s a fine line that connections are treading, and I’m in no position to question their methods, but this has the potential to go horribly wrong. Let’s hope not.
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New Gold Cup sponsor leaves more questions than answers
In case you didn’t know, the Cheltenham Gold Cup has a new sponsor, it is now the WellChild Cheltenham Gold Cup.
WellChild is a Cheltenham-based charity which supports children and young people with serious illness, as well as the people that look after then. It is undoubtedly a marvellous organisation that deserves recognition, especially at a time when charity revenues are being crippled due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
However, there are obvious questions that come from this announcement. Firstly, why did Magners pull out of their three-year deal to sponsor the Cheltenham Festival and Gold Cup a year early? The Jockey Club have declined to comment which doesn’t bode well in truth.
I don’t know for certain, but there has to be at least a possibility that Magners have decided the furore surrounding last year’s Cheltenham Festival has done longer-term damage to the Cheltenham Festival brand. If that is the case, then attracting high-profile sponsors is going to be extremely difficult.
Then there is the issue of prizemoney. Gold Cup prizemoney remains at the same level as in 2020 but it seems unlikely (to me, anyway), that a charity would contribute to that, meaning that the race has effectively been subsidised to an even greater degree than normal by the Jockey Club, owners of Cheltenham racecourse.
On the face of it, this isn’t a big deal for punters but forfeiting prizemoney contributions is not a sustainable business model in the longer term.
And then there is the question of why the sport’s own charity, the Injured Jockey Fund, appears to have been overlooked. No doubt we’ll learn more about these decisions in time.