All eyes at Cheltenham on Friday will be on the eagerly-awaited rematch between Easysland and Tiger Roll in the Glenfarclas Cross Country Handicap Chase.
Gordon Elliott’s dual Grand National hero Tiger Roll was denied the chance of joining Red Rum as a three-time winner of the Aintree spectacular by the coronavirus pandemic, but has an equally excellent record over the cross-country course at Prestbury Park.
However, he had no answer to emerging star Easysland in March when they raced off level weights – and on this occasion the French raider carries 4lb less.
Robbie Power has come in for the ride on Tiger Roll – with Keith Donoghue, who would have been on board, staying in Ireland rather than sitting out 14 days in isolation on his return.
“It’s great to get the call-up for him, but it’s very unfortunate for Keith Donoghue that the restrictions in place over in Ireland meant he would have had to isolate for 14 days if he came,” said Gold Cup-winning rider Power, now based in Britain.
“Keith’s having a really good run at the moment, so he couldn’t justify losing 14 days. It’s a great spare for me to pick up, though, and I’m really looking forward to it.
“His main objective will be Cheltenham in March and Aintree in April, but this is a path he’s taken before – so if it’s not broke, don’t fix it. He’ll probably have another run over hurdles somewhere after this before the Festival.
“Obviously he faces a very tough task having to give 4lb to Easysland, who beat him at level weights back in March, but I know Gordon is very happy with him.
“I’ll be having a good chat with Keith and I’ll be doing whatever he tells me to.”
Tiger Roll does at least have the advantage of having a recent run on the Flat, while Easysland has not been out since his victory at the big meeting in the spring.
He is trained by former champion jockey David Cottin for owner JP McManus, and the Grand National is his ultimate aim this season.
“After Cheltenham he went and had a break in Ireland – and when we got him back from Ireland, David was thrilled with him, because he felt he had really filled out,” said Cottin’s partner and assistant, Amanda Zetterholm.
“He hadn’t grown, because he’s never going to be a big horse, but he’s really strengthened up.
“He’s working to a good level, but this is not going to be his main objective, obviously – so we’re looking to build towards the Cheltenham Festival in March and then hopefully the Grand National.
“We don’t know yet if he’s going to go for the Grand Cross at Pau, there’s no decision yet – it depends how it will fit in as preparation for the Grand National.
“It obviously is up to the owner what they want to do this year, but so far the plan is the Cross Country at Cheltenham and the National.”
Also involved is Christian Williams’ Potters Corner, last season’s Welsh National winner who also has the distinction of winning the Virtual Grand National – which was held in absence of the real thing in April.
Williams said: “Potters Corner is in great form.
“He schooled well over the cross-country fences at the track a couple of weeks ago.
“We are targeting the race as we are just trying to give him a different avenue. He’ll be 11 come January, and there are only a certain amount of Nationals you can run in before they take their toll.
“Introducing the cross-country route with him this season will hopefully give us a bit more longevity. This could help get another season or two out of him, and I am optimistic he will enjoy it.
“Instead of having to constantly run in Nationals, the cross-country route might mean he can also go to places like France and run in races like that.
“He is being thrown straight into the lions’ den, with both Easysland and Tiger Roll in opposition, but everything we have asked of him he has duly obliged.
“The Aintree Grand National remains the main aim, and we are looking forward to getting his season started.”