Will 2020 be the year that Tiger Roll makes an unprecedented attempt to run and win the Grand National for the third time? We’ll find out for certain next month, but looking back at the events of the past few weeks it’s been anything but a smooth ride to Aintree for the double champion.

Weighty Blow

For a while back in February, as punters adopted different strategies to try and win the Grand National, the jury was out on whether Tiger Roll would be able to make his hat trick attempt. It looked like Michael O’Leary’s star horse wouldn’t even be running in the National, after the team declared that his attendance would be “50-50” following the publication of handicap weights.

The BHA’s senior handicapper for the race, Martin Greenwood, unfortunately handed Tiger Roll a top weight mark of 170lb, putting him alongside stablemate Delta Work. It was a decision that the champion thoroughbred’s owners declared “a very unfair rating”, particularly since in 2019 he was raised by 12lb after winning the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase at the Cheltenham Festival. The rating of being assigned top weight would put Tiger Roll at Gold Cup winning standard, “a ridiculous” move given that his favoured disciplines are cross country and the National itself.

Eddie O’Leary, Michael’s brother and racing manager for the Gigginstown Stud, clarified that the last time Tiger Roll competed in a standard chase was back in 2017, where he “pulled off up to 150”. The handicapper’s decision was especially unfair when we consider that former Gold Cup winner Native River was compressed by 2lb, with Tiger Roll and Delta Work both giving him a total of 4lb each.

Understandably put-out and concerned about the increase in weight, the O’Leary camp were willing to leave it to his next two races before deciding what to do, although it was a 50-50 decision whether he’d run or not. They were even considering entering him into the Betway Bowl steeplechase at Aintree instead, which is set to take place on 2nd April – two days before the National. No runner carrying top weight at the National has won since Red Rum back in 1977, but even he was carrying 11st 8lb instead of the 11st 10lb assigned to Tiger Roll and Delta Work.

Return To Navan

A few days after the shock announcement, Tiger Roll returned to Navan to compete at the Boyne Hurdle, his first outing after a total of 316 days off racing. In 2019, he romped home in the Boyne in first place, but any racing fans expecting similar fireworks this year were in for a surprise.

Although it seemed to be expected by trainer Gordon Elliott, who warned Tiger Roll supporters not to expect too much from the brave little racehorse, Tiger Roll finished the race in fifth place. Despite this, however, it was a win overall for the Gigginstown Stud and Elliott, after Cracking Smart, another horse in the camp, took the win under Davy Russell.

Tiger Roll’s “credible” fifth place finish was enough for the O’Learys to confirm that he would be entering the National again to make that hat trick attempt, and it also left Elliott declaring that he was “absolutely thrilled” with his return to turf. Pending the outcome of the cross country chase at Cheltenham it was all systems go.

Preparations Step Up A Gear At Cheltenham

Luckily, before the month drew to a close, things took a much more positive turn. The Aintree preparations stepped up a gear, as Tiger Roll returned to Prestbury Park’s cross country fences for a schooling session under Keith Donoghue.

Enjoying “a nice school around”, which included jumping a few hedges on the famous racecourse, Tiger Roll quickly put Elliott and jockey Donoghue at ease, leaving both of them “very happy” with his prospects to secure the first of his two hat trick attempts.

Tiger Roll has, of course, won the last two runnings of the cross country chase at Cheltenham, and he is priced at 11-10 to do the same again this year. If he pulls it off, it will bring his total tally at the Festival to five wins, including victories at the Triumph Hurdle in 2014 and 2017’s National Hunt Chase.