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Dublin: 5 °C Saturday 18 January, 2020

Donn McClean: Much more than a stepping stone win for rocking Tiger Roll

Gordon Elliott’s horse laid down a marker at Navan.

STAR OF THE weekend? You can argue the case for a few, it was a cracking weekend of National Hunt racing, but Tiger Roll probably just shades it.

Tiger Roll and Keith Donoghue stroll to victory Tiger Roll and Keith Donoghue stroll to victory in The Ladbrokes Ireland Boyne Hurdle at the weekend. Source: Peter Mooney/INPHO

Tiger Roll is used to being the star of the weekend. He is a remarkably willing and talented individual. Gordon Elliott’s horse was the star of the second weekend in April last year, when he got home by a head from Pleasant Company in the Aintree Grand National and went mainstream.

Mainstream thinking was that Sunday’s run in the Ladbrokes Ireland Boyne Hurdle at Navan would be just a prep run. That it would be a stepping-stone back to Cheltenham, back for the Cross Country Chase, which he also won last year, before stepping back to Aintree for the Grand National again. It was a stepping stone all right, but it was much more than that.

The Gigginstown House horse settled well towards the rear of the field on Sunday for Keith Donoghue, fifth of the six runners. He moved up nicely on the outside as they left the back straight, he travelled well into the home straight, and you thought that he would run a nice race in defeat.

When they jumped the third last, however, and Off You Go got squeezed out of it a little, and all of a sudden Tiger Roll was in front on the near side and travelling well down to the second last, you thought, he couldn’t win it, could he?

He did. He went clear on the run to the final flight, and he stayed on strongly all the way to the line. It was a special performance from a special horse who was racing over hurdles for the first time since April 2016, and who has, in the interim, won a Munster National at Limerick, a National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham, a Cross Country Chase at Cheltenham, and a Grand National at Aintree.

No horse has won back-to-back renewals of the Grand National since Red Rum achieved the feat in 1973 and 1974. Tiger Roll will have to race this year off a Grand National handicap rating that is 9lb higher than last year’s, but it is difficult to argue that he is not the leading contender again. Bookmakers cut his Grand National odds to 12/1. That’s less than half the price he was to win the Boyne Hurdle on Sunday morning.

Davy Russell celebrates winning with Presenting Percy Davy Russell with Presenting Percy at Gowran Park last month. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

The Cheltenham Gold Cup market got a little bit of a shake on Friday and Saturday, first when Presenting Percy was not declared for the Red Mills Chase at Gowran Park, and then when Clan Des Obeaux ran out an impressive winner of the Betfair Denman Chase at Ascot.

Not that Presenting Percy has been deposed as Gold Cup favourite. The Pat Kelly-trained gelding is still half the price of Clan Des Obeaux with most betting firms. But there is nothing like a little bit of absence to make the market grow weaker, and one firm even made the pair of them joint favourites.

The good news is that all is well with Presenting Percy. Owner Philip Reynolds said on Friday that his horse had the option of running in the Bobbyjo Chase at Fairyhouse this Saturday, but that he could go straight to the Gold Cup. That he wouldn’t be overly concerned if he did go straight to the Gold Cup.

And he shouldn’t be overly concerned. It would be an unconventional path to the Gold Cup – one run over hurdles, then straight to Cheltenham – but trainer Pat Kelly majors in unconventional paths to Cheltenham. Last season, Presenting Percy won his beginners’ chase, got beaten in the Florida Pearl Chase, won the Porterstown Handicap Chase under 11st 10lb, won the Galmoy Hurdle and got beaten in the Red Mills Chase before going to Cheltenham and dancing in in the RSA Chase.

Clan Des Obeaux danced in in the Denman Chase at Ascot on Saturday. In a sense, he did no more than he was entitled to do, he beat horses who were rated significantly inferior. Runner-up Terrefort, for example, the second highest rated horse in the race, was rated a stone lower than Clan Des Obeaux going into Saturday’s race, and he was receiving just 3lb from Paul Nicholls’ horse.

In another sense, however, he did it very smoothly. He travelled and he jumped and he quickened clear of his rivals impressively.

He is a player in the Gold Cup all right, the King George winner, the Denman Chase winner, and still just a seven-year-old. The two slight concerns are, firstly, that he has never won at Cheltenham. He has finished second there three times in four runs, but he has never won there. His best two runs have been his last two, at Kempton and Ascot respectively.

And secondly, he is unproven over the Gold Cup distance of three miles and two and a half furlongs. He won the King George over three miles, and he won the Denman Chase over three miles but, on the two occasions on which he has forayed beyond three miles, in the Betway Bowl at Aintree at the end of last season and in the Betfair Chase at the start of this one, he has come up short.

It was a good day for Gordon Elliott at Navan on Sunday, Tiger Roll just one of four winners that he trained on the day. Ucello Conti was another, the Martaline gelding staying on well to land the Boardsmill Stud Hunters’ Chase, and he is now challenging Stand Up And Fight for favouritism for the Foxhunters’ Chase at Cheltenham.

Ucello Conti has now won a point-to-point and two hunters’ chases since he unseated his rider in the Grand National last April. Second in two Paddy Power Chases and placed in two Thyestes Chases, he is a highly talented recruit to hunter chasing.

It was a good weekend too for Henry de Bromhead, with Monalee winning the Red Mills Chase at Gowran Park on Saturday, and Chris’s Dream landing the Ten Up Chase at Navan on Sunday.

Monalee after winning the race Monalee after winning at Leopardstown earlier this month. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

Monalee made all the running under Rachael Blackmore, and he always looked comfortable. Anibale Fly mounted a challenge at the second last fence, but it never really looked like Monalee was going to get beaten. Barry Maloney’s horse is entered in both the Ryanair Chase and the Gold Cup at Cheltenham and, while he is a much shorter price for the Ryanair Chase than he is for the Gold Cup, he would be a worthy contender in either.

Chris’s Dream was very good in winning the Ten Up Chase. Ridden for the first time, like Monalee was, by Rachael Blackmore, they abandoned the aggressive tactics and held him up this time. The new tactics worked too, because he settled and jumped, and he stayed on strongly from the second last fence to repel the challenge of the talented Champagne Classic.

Both horses hold entries in the novice chases at Cheltenham, Chris’s Dream in the RSA Chase over three miles and the JLT Chase over two and a half, Champagne Classic in those two races and in the National Hunt Chase over four miles as well, and both horses are exciting staying novice chasers from whom there should be plenty more to come.

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Donn McClean

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