Tiger Roll is the horse you have got to love. The stroppy little guy who keeps getting reinvented but continues to do it strictly on his own terms.
Everyone now knows that he is the first horse ever to win the Triumph Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival and to return three years later to take the four-mile National Hunt Chase in 2017 — then to cap that with the Cross-Country Chase this March.
What they forget is that he was never meant to be a jumper and that his career has been littered with rejection, much of it of his own choosing.
Flat-bred from a mare trained by Red Rum’s rider Tommy Stack, he never even made it to the track, despite being bought for Sheikh Mohammed, and was picked up as a three-year-old for just £10,000 by Graham Thorner and passed on to Devon trainer Nigel Hawke — both Grand National-winning jockeys on Well To Do and Seagram respectively.
It proved some coup as Tiger Roll bolted up over hurdles at Market Rasen in November and then fetched a tidy £80,000 at Cheltenham to join Gordon Elliott and Michael O’Leary that December.
Winning the Triumph Hurdle was a triumph, but only part of a story — 28 races over the next four seasons have seen seven wins and seven places, but have also thrown up a whole series of stinkers. The most recent only in November when he dropped out and pulled himself up at Clonmel. All this has challenged the tireless originality of trainer Gordon Elliott, whose current bulk belies an earlier riding career that included a winner at Cheltenham and four shots over the mighty rails of the Maryland Hunt Cup in the USA.
When Tiger Roll finished a distant 14th of 19 over hurdles in the first race of Grand National day in 2016, what other trainer would then run the little horse 10 times over fences before the end of October and reappear five months later to win the four miler at Cheltenham? And that’s before topping it all by switching to this year’s Cross-Country Chase as a warm-up to Aintree.
But salute the horse who has developed his own minimalist method of crossing a fence to the point of only losing his jockey once in 17 runs over 13 different courses. On Saturday, he was soon testing how low he could go and even the ageless, peerless Davy Russell had moments, most notably at the 19th, when staying in the saddle was far from certain.
Tiger Roll’s groom Lorna Dunne said he is “grumpy, but very lovable” (and that from the mother of two sets of twins). The Grand National has a long history of larger than life characters and Tiger Roll deserves his place as one of the greatest, if not smallest, of them all.
Finally on the subject of size, Tiger Roll stands at just 15.2hh — isn’t it time the Grand National card carried the heights and weights of the runners as they have long done for players at Rugby Internationals?
The difference between Tiger Roll and Pleasant Company would be some five inches and 50kilos, which is exactly the type of personal statistic that could help the uniquely wide audience see the horses as something more than Lottery tickets. It could be Tiger’s little legacy.
Ref Horse & Hound; 19 April 2018