Davy Russell reflects on the Cheltenham Festival and pays tribute to his dual Grand National-winning partner Tiger Roll, who heads off into retirement
THERE was certainly a resurgence in British winners at this year’s Cheltenham Festival, finishing with 10 victors compared to just five last year.
Interestingly those winners came from a huge variety of trainers – from Ben Pauling to Nicky Henderson and Lucinda Russell. Ireland came away with 18 winners, but the slight worry would be that 15 of those came from just three trainers – Willie Mullins, Gordon Elliott and Henry de Bromhead – whereas last year Ireland’s winners were coming from all directions. We as competitors need to keep our eye on the ball.
We didn’t see much of Paul Nicholls last week but you’d imagine he’d be firing coming into Aintree – the season is a long way from over.
The standout performance for me was Rachael Blackmore’s Gold Cup win on A Plus Tard – she completely changed her tactics (see magazine report, p56) having realised she made a mistake in last year’s race, and corrected that in no uncertain terms. I’ve never seen a Gold Cup winner race to the line the way A Plus Tard did; it was just amazing.
To water or not?
NICKY HENDERSON’S Constitution Hill was particularly impressive to break the course record by four seconds in Tuesday’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.
I hear some people were moaning because they watered the course that evening but when a horse runs that quick, you’re talking about a sound surface. If the clerk of the course didn’t water and it didn’t rain, we’d have had ground that was too fast, so he put down a slight bit of water and would have had perfect racing conditions had a borderline monsoon – more than double the forecast 3–10mm – not arrived.
The small amount of watering made absolutely no difference to Wednesday’s ground but what it did do was guarantee us safe ground if the rain hadn’t come, so I can’t work out why people were complaining, it was just silly talk. I applaud him for what he did and by the last day, the ground was perfect.
Farewell to Tiger Roll
THE emotions went through the roof after Tiger Roll finished second in his final race, Wednesday’s Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase – we were unlucky not to win, but normally Tiger wouldn’t perform at all on that really soft surface, so actually he’s outdone himself there.
It was hard for Gordon Elliott not to run his other horse Delta Work, knowing that Tiger wouldn’t handle the ground. To have finished second to any other horse would have been really disappointing, but at least Gordon still won the race.
The boos Delta Work received afterwards were, I’m sure, all tongue in cheek but the further down the chute we went, side by side, the bigger the cheers. Cheltenham is designed as a natural parade back to the winner’s enclosure and the number of people who come to cheer you in is unbelievable.
You can be known as a jockey your whole life but when you win a Grand National it changes the whole landscape of what you’ve done in your career, and Tiger Roll made that happen for me.
I rode in 14 or 15 Grand Nationals and I still didn’t know what type of horse you needed to win it because I rode every type of horse and still didn’t win! Then Tiger Roll came along and he’s the complete opposite of what you think you’d need in the race, but he goes and wins two of them.
I wish he was coming home to Youghal with me, but he’s retiring to his owners Gigginstown in Mullingar. However, I’m sure people will continue to see more of him over the years, parading at horse shows and things like that. He’s one very special horse.
- Read Davy’s exclusive column as well as Horse & Hound’s full report on the Cheltenham Festival in 24 March issue of the magazine
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