Davy Russell aiming for Downpatrick comeback next week

Davy Russell is set to return to race riding at Downpatrick next week after almost a year out of the saddle because of a serious neck injury.

The dual Grand National-winning jockey has been on the sidelines since his fall from Doctor Duffy at Limerick last October.

Russell initially set himself a new-year target to ride again. But that first deadline passed, and his hopes of being back in time for the Cheltenham Festival in March also proved in vain.

The three-time Irish champion, and 2014 Cheltenham Gold Cup winner, will be back instead next Friday.

He wrote in his blog for bookmakers Star Sports: “After fast approaching 11 months, I’m delighted to tell you that I’m pencilled in for a return to race-riding next Friday September 17 at Downpatrick – and then again at Navan the next day.”

His return comes in the same week as that of trainer Gordon Elliott, who is free to race horses again after serving his six-month suspension.

Russell said: “I’ve talked things through with Gordon, and I can virtually tell you the horses (I will be riding at Downpatrick) – but I won’t at this stage.

“I guess the key is for a bit of rain to fall and then we are all systems go.

“It’s exciting … I’m going to take things steady, and there is no set plan on how many I will ride each day or each week.

“If Gordon wants me to ride one, I’ll ride it all right – if he offers me five or six, that’s no bother either.

“The key is simply being ready to go, and that’s where I am at now. I promised myself I’d give it as long as it takes, because I didn’t want to come back and not be at my best.

“I pushed really hard to get back for Cheltenham back in March, but it was just too soon.”

Russell has enjoyed family time – and an unscheduled break in the regime of watching his weight and maintaining race-riding fitness – but is confident he is ready to resume his career.

The 42-year-old added: “It was last October I took that crashing fall from Doctor Duffy in Limerick – and it’s been a long road back.

“When you get to my age you have to be 100 per cent ready to return, and that’s why I’ve sat on the sidelines for so long.

“As for my fitness levels, I’m not a great runner after taking so many knocks over the years, so have been concentrating on riding out here at home and in Gordon’s (yard in County Meath).

“I’ve worked really hard at that over the last few months, and feel great.”

Russell added the prospect of again riding his fellow dual National hero Tiger Roll is a major incentive.

He said: “It’s a bit early for some of the classier horses to be back in training in Gordon’s, but it was great to see Tiger Roll back in and in terrific form.

“He’s such a legend of a horse, and it’s horses like him that make you stop eating ice cream!”

Top weight Samcro has Plate target

Samcro has been allotted top weight in the Tote Galway Plate – with dual Grand National hero and “speculative entry” Tiger Roll 3lb lower.

Both horses are currently in the care of Denise Foster, having been trained to major victories by Gordon Elliott.

Samcro is a dual Cheltenham Festival winner – while Tiger Roll registered his back-to-back Grand Nationals in 2018 and 2019, and has also posted five Festival victories.

The July 28 highlight of this year’s Galway Festival has long been Samcro’s aim, but whether Tiger Roll joins him there has yet to be decided.

Tiger Roll was given only a
Tiger Roll was given only a “speculative” entry in the Galway Plate (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

The 11-year-old dished out the perfect riposte to those who were saying he should have been retired, following a listless run over hurdles, when he won the Cross Country Chase at Cheltenham in March for the third time.

However, rather than running him in the Grand National in pursuit of a third victory to emulate Red Rum, connections decided he had too much weight and instead sent him to Aintree’s Grade One Bowl instead – in which he finished a distant fourth.

“It’s been the plan all summer to run Samcro – we assumed he’d have top weight,” said Eddie O’Leary, racing manager for Gigginstown House Stud who own both horses, along with another Galway possible Battleoverdoyen.

“It’s the plan with Samcro and if he’s ok he’ll run. It was only a speculative entry for Tiger Roll.

“It was great to see Samcro win at Killarney. He was then beaten at Listowel, but he hadn’t been trained for that race.

“We only ran him there because he looked well in for it, but he hadn’t been trained for it. We probably shouldn’t have run him – we were tempted into running him.

“I hope all is well, because it’s been the plan all along.

“Battleoverdoyen is a classy horse too, but it’s all about his wind these days.”

Petit Mouchoir has top weight in the Galway Hurdle
Petit Mouchoir has top weight in the Galway Hurdle (PA Wire)

Willie Mullins has the likes of Easy Game (11st 9lb), Brahma Bull (11st 6lb) and Royal Rendezvous (11st 5lb) towards the top of the weights in the Plate – while his nephew Emmet could run The Shunter (11st 4lb).

In the Guinness Galway Hurdle, two days later, Foster’s Petit Mouchoir and Willie Mullins’ Saldier are joint top-weights on 11st 10lb.

Norman Lee’s Sole Pretender is next in on 11st 5lb – while a rare UK-trained possible, Neil Mulholland’s Milkwood, winner of the Scottish Champion Hurdle, currently has 11st 2lb to carry.

Cheltenham and Aintree winner Belfast Banter (10st 13lb), 2020 Triumph Hurdle winner Burning Victory (10st 12lb) and Olly Murphy’s Swinton Hurdle hero Copperless (10st 9lb) are others to consider.

Former Galway Plate and Hurdle-winning jockey Robbie Power will not be fit to ride at this year’s showpiece meeting.

Power posted on Twitter: “Unfortunately I have to undergo surgery this week on an old back injury and won’t be fit for next week’s Galway Festival. Disappointing but hopefully will be back in September in time for Listowel.”

Rejuvenated Samcro on target for Galway Plate

Samcro is being aimed at the Tote Galway Plate on July 28 after returning to winning ways at Killarney recently.

It was the talented nine-year-old’s first success since the Grade One Marsh Novices’ Chase at the Cheltenham Festival in March 2020.

His races in between had been limited to three, being pulled up in two of them – and connections of the Denise ‘Sneezy’ Foster-trained gelding believe a summer campaign could be more beneficial to Samcro, as Eddie O’Leary, racing manager for owners Gigginstown House Stud, explained.

“His summer plan will be the Galway Plate. We hope he has a healthier summer and hopefully his problems, scoping bad or his sinuses, will be helped,” he said.

“We just hope that being able to train during the summer he might have a healthier summer.

“We were all happy with his run the last day. The tight track wouldn’t have suited him, but he showed a lot of determination. Hopefully the next day we’ll see a bit of the old sparkle as well.

“The Plate will be his summer target. I don’t think there will be a race in between it, unless Sneezy has other options for him.”

Meanwhile, Tiger Roll, Gigginstown’s dual Grand National hero and five-time Cheltenham Festival winner, is enjoying a summer holiday.

The 11-year-old was last seen finishing distant fourth to Clan Des Obeaux in the Betway Bowl at Aintree in April.

Tiger Roll is enjoying a summer out at grass
Tiger Roll is enjoying a summer out at grass (David Davies/Jockey Club)

The owners ran him in the Grade One rather than bid for a record-equalling third Grand National as they were not happy with his handicap mark.

“He’s great, getting fat out in the field as is his wont,” said O’Leary.

“He’s in great form. We were disappointed, but not surprised, the handicapper didn’t reassess him downwards after Aintree.

“The plan is he’ll have to go back to the UK for a couple of more races at the back end, which is not his time of the year, and we’ll have the same carry on with the handicapper about his ridiculous rating.

“My point is we’ve been in racing for 20 years and never queried the rating of a horse. We’ve never complained over a handicap rating ever, except Tiger Roll.

“He won’t go for the National unless he’s given a chance. We don’t want to be forced into retiring him.”

Tiger returns to Aintree in Betway Bowl

Tiger Roll returns to Aintree on Thursday – two days earlier than many would initially have expected.

Much has been written and said about the decision of owners Gigginstown House Stud to miss Saturday’s Randox Grand National with their equine great – but he certainly adds a layer of intrigue to the Betway Bowl.

Gigginstown’s gripe with the handicapper was the fact that the dual Grand National winner had the rating of a Grade One horse – and he is about to get the chance to prove who is right.

Tiger Roll is in the care of Denise Foster, and the current incumbent at Cullentra House Stables said: “He’s 11 years old, and it will be a big ask for him. Really we’re just hoping for a nice run from him.

“We can’t be too confident – I am wary of the fact that he is 11. That’s really all you can say about him.

“He left here in good form, and we’ll just have to see what happens. It’s all a bit of a question mark.”

With Davy Russell still sidelined by injury, Jack Kennedy comes in for the mount.

Another popular 11-year-old is lining up in opposition, in the shape of Colin Tizzard’s 2018 Gold Cup winner Native River.

He does so, though, without the aid of his old ally Richard Johnson – who retired on Saturday. The four-time champion jumps jockey has been replaced by Jonjo O’Neill jnr, who won the Denman Chase on Tizzard’s stable star last season.

Native River has a good record on the Mildmay course
Native River has a good record on the Mildmay course (David Davies/PA)

Native River finished fourth, best of the British, in the Gold Cup last month.

“It’s strange going into a race without Richard – but Jonjo has won on him, so that helps a bit,” said owner Garth Broom.

“We had been dithering a bit about the ground – and while it won’t be ideal, hopefully it will be safe, and on Thursday’s it’s likely to be at its softest.

“It’s quite an open race. On faster ground we wouldn’t have run. He can handle good ground – he won the Denman on it a couple of years ago when unfortunately he picked up a suspensory problem. The thing about the soft ground is that it slows the others down, while he just goes the same speed.

“We’re hoping for a good run from him. He was a bit tired for a week after the Gold Cup – but he’s recovered now, and they say he’s as good as ever, so we’ll hope for the best.

“He’s never been over-raced. This will be just his fourth run of the season, and he’s got a good record at the Mildmay Course.

“He’s never been over-raced, this will be just his fourth run of the season and he’s got a good record at the Mildmay Course.”

It seemed hard work for Native River at Cheltenham. A habitual front-runner usually, he could never get to the front at any stage.

“At Cheltenham, the last twice he has run in the Gold Cup he hasn’t gone with his usual enthusiasm,” added Broome.

“I’m wondering if he’s remembering the hard race he had there when he won it.

“The main thing is that he comes back safe. I think we should get one more year out of him – but the first time he shows he’s not enjoying it, we’ll be thinking of retirement.”

Paul Nicholls skipped the Gold Cup with dual King George winner Clan Des Obeaux, in preference for this race, but he has been fitted with first-time cheekpieces after he surprisingly failed to beat stablemate Secret Investor at Newbury.

“He ran very well last time at Newbury when just failing to give 6lb to Secret Investor, who picked up an injury and may not run again until Christmas,” Nicholls told Betfair.

“We felt after Newbury that fitting cheekpieces might help Clan’s concentration, and they seemed to sharpen him up when he worked in them on Saturday.

“He’s in good shape, and if the cheekpieces do the trick then he has an obvious chance.”

Nicholls also runs Real Steel, not seen since pulling up in the King George.

“He hasn’t been the easiest to train but was showing something last time when he travelled well in the King George on Boxing Day until stopping quickly turning into the straight,” said Nicholls.

“It transpired he had bled, so this is a bit of a recovery mission, but we’ve freshened him up and are hoping for better from him.”

Clondaw Castle clears the last before winning well at Kempton
Clondaw Castle clears the last before winning well at Kempton (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Clondaw Castle steps up in grade for Tom George, having won a Kempton handicap last time – which his trainer previously used as a springboard to success here for Nacarat.

“He steps up into Grade One company for the first time. He’s had a good season – he’s up to a mark of 160,” said George.

“I think he’s ready for the next step. He’s improved again for the step up in distance.

“He won the old Racing Post Chase at Kempton off a big weight – the same we did with Nacarat 10 years ago. Let’s hope we can follow in his footsteps.”

Nicky Henderson also steps Mister Fisher up in trip. He was in the process of running a good race in the Ryanair, but two bad mistakes eventually meant he was pulled up.

“It is rather unfair that he comes here off the back of the formbook saying he was pulled up in the Ryanair – he ran a really good race,” said Henderson.

“Coming down the hill Allaho and Min were going flat to the boards, and Mister Fisher was literally on their tails and looked like finishing third, but he’d been flat out for a long way and did get tired. Nico (de Boinville) quite rightly looked after him.

“If he stays three miles, which I’ll be disappointed if he doesn’t, it will tell us where we’re going next season.”

Tiger Roll faces eight in Betway Bowl

Tiger Roll is set to face eight rivals as he bids to add the Grade One Betway Bowl Chase to his remarkable list of high-profile victories.

The five-time Cheltenham Festival winner and dual Grand National hero has become a household name without taking on top staying chasers at level weights.

But owners Gigginstown House Stud decided to make an exception this time, and Tiger Roll runs at Aintree on Thursday – rather than either Monday’s Irish Grand National or the Randox Grand National at the weekend.

The 11-year-old, trained by Denise Foster, had been out of form since his second National triumph in 2019 before bouncing back with a convincing victory in the Glenfarclas Cross-Country Chase at Cheltenham last month.

Heading the opposition to him this week is 2018 Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Native River, who was fourth in the latest renewal of that great race.

Clan Des Obeaux, winner of the King George VI Chase in 2018 and 2019, looks a formidable foe too – as does Waiting Patiently, runner-up in this season’s King George and winner of the Ascot Chase in 2018.

Aso, Clondaw Castle, Militarian, Mister Fisher and Real Steel complete the list of contenders for the three-mile one-furlong feature.

Jack Kennedy in the frame for Tiger Roll ride at Aintree

Jack Kennedy could get the leg up on Tiger Roll for the first time since October 2017 when the dual Grand National winner runs in the Betway Bowl at Aintree next week.

Speculation over where the five-times Cheltenham Festival winner would next run ended on Friday morning when he was not declared for the Boylesports Irish Grand National at Fairyhouse on Easter Monday.

The 11-year-old returned to top form at Cheltenham when running out an easy winner of the cross country chase, his third victory in the race.

However, he had already been scratched from the Randox Grand National as his connections felt his handicap mark was “unfair”.

“He’s come out of Cheltenham great,” said Eddie O’Leary, racing manager for Gigginstown House Stud.

“His weight at Fairyhouse had no bearing on this decision. Our thinking is let’s run him in the Bowl and let the handicapper see.

“Keith (Donoghue) tends to only ride him in the cross country, so I would imagine Jack Kennedy will be riding him – but we haven’t confirmed that yet.

“Mind you, the Bowl doesn’t look a very good race this year and it’s likely to be a very small field.”

Latest Exhibition tops Irish Grand National field

Latest Exhibition heads the weights for the BoyleSports Irish Grand National at Fairyhouse on Easter Monday after Tiger Roll was taken out of the race at the final declaration stage.

The dual Grand National hero will head back to Aintree instead next week for the Betway Bowl.

Tiger Roll’s owners Gigginstown House Stud have four Irish National runners – Coko Beach, Mortal, Run Wild Fred and Roaring Bull – plus one of the three reserves, Eurobot.

The absence of Tiger Roll means the Paul Nolan-trained novice Latest Exhibition now carries top weight of 11st 10lb.

The eight-year-old steps into handicap company for the first time after finishing second to Monkfish in two Grade One contests at Leopardstown over the winter. He sidestepped another clash with Willie Mullins’ exciting prospect at last month’s Cheltenham Festival to wait for this weekend.

Mullins is well-represented with a team of five – Brahma Bull, Salsaretta, Agusta Gold, Dragon D’estruval and Robin De Carlow.

Among other fancied runners to stand their ground are Sempo and The Big Dog.

Escaria Ten, third in the National Hunt Challenge cup at Cheltenham, is one of four contenders for Denise Foster.

The Philip Hobbs-trained Jerrysback is the only English runner.

Tiger Roll still in Irish Grand National reckoning

Tiger Roll heads 60 horses still in contention for the BoyleSports Irish Grand National at Fairyhouse.

With connections deciding against bidding for an historic third victory in the Randox Grand National at Aintree on Saturday week, Tiger Roll is set to run in either the Irish equivalent on Monday or Aintree’s Betway Bowl three days later.

Eddie O’Leary, racing manager for owners Gigginstown House Stud, said following Wednesday’s forfeit stage for the Irish Grand National: “No decision has been made on where Tiger Roll will run yet.

“It will either be the Irish National or the Bowl.”

The hugely popular 11-year-old proved he is no back number with a brilliant display in the Glenfarclas Chase on his latest outing – his third victory in the cross-country event, and a remarkable fifth Cheltenham Festival success overall.

If he does line up at Fairyhouse, however, he will have to concede lumps of weight all round.

Gigginstown have a total of 14 possible runners, with O’Leary adding: “Run Wild Fred and Coko Beach would look the main ones.”

Paul Nolan’s stable star Latest Exhibition is also among the confirmations, but still has the option of running in the Underwriting Exchange Gold Cup at Fairyhouse 24 hours earlier.

Champion trainer Willie Mullins, who finally broke his Irish Grand National duck with Burrows Saint when the race was last run in 2019, has six remaining contenders – including new recruit Agusta Gold.

Other leading hopes include Joseph O’Brien’s Sempo, Peter Fahey’s The Big Dog and Escaria Ten – who is trained by Denise Foster as are Tiger Roll, Run Wild Fred and Coko Beach.

Latest Exhibition (nearside) still has two options at Fairyhouse over the Easter weekend
Latest Exhibition (nearside) still has two options at Fairyhouse over the Easter weekend (PA)

The 400,000 euro contest is supported by three Grade Two events on a quality card.

Noel Meade’s Jeff Kidder, winner of the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle at Cheltenham, is one of 10 contenders for the Rathbarry And Glenview Studs Juvenile Hurdle – with the unbeaten Teahupoo among his potential rivals.

The Underwriting Exchange Hurdle appears an intriguing affair – with Abacadabras, Beacon Edge and Petit Mouchoir among those in contention.

The third and final Grade Two of the afternoon is the Devenish Chase, for which O’Brien’s Fakir D’oudairies sets the standard.

The JP McManus-owned six-year-old has finished second in three of his four starts this season – most recently chasing home the hugely impressive Allaho in Cheltenham’s Ryanair Chase.

Fairyhouse officials would love to see Tiger Roll in Irish National

Officials at Fairyhouse have not given up hope of Tiger Roll running in the BoyleSports Irish Grand National on Easter Monday.

The 11-year-old bounced back to winning ways with an incredible fifth victory at the Cheltenham Festival last week, putting behind him a winless run stretching back to the 2019 Grand National at Aintree.

As his owners Gigginstown House Stud have already withdrawn him from the Aintree spectacular this year – where he would have been trying to equal Red Rum’s achievement of winning the race three times – Tiger Roll’s options now include the Bowl at Aintree, the Punchestown Gold Cup and the Irish National.

Peter Roe, general manager at Fairyhouse, said: “If Tiger Roll shows up we’d love that. For the team at Cullentra to get him back to the form he was in – from flag-fall you could tell he was loving it.”

After a very wet winter, the ground at Fairyhouse has dried up considerably but the weather could turn again before Easter.

“January and February were the wettest two months on record since we began recording, but we’ve had a dry fortnight,” said Roe.

“It’s unsettled going forward, but we’re yielding at the moment. I’m very happy.

“The support we have got from HRI and BoyleSports to keep the money at €400,000 is amazing. To get in this year you’ll be looking at (a handicap mark of) 136/137 so the quality is rising all the time.”

On that theme Irish handicapper Andrew Shaw admitted he found it just as hard as his British Horseracing Authority counterpart Martin Greenwood to put a figure on Tiger Roll before coming up with 163.

“It was difficult (to give him a mark) as it has been mentioned by Mr (Eddie) O’Leary that he is not as good as the Al Boum Photos and Minella Indos of the world. They think he should be getting a lot more weight off them, but he hasn’t run in a chase over park fences since November 2017,” said Shaw.

“We don’t take the form over the cross-country fences quite as literally as they do in Britain, but at the same time he has won the Aintree Grand National twice. He was in at Aintree off 166, he’s 3lb lower here which is pretty much the same as last year, though I know neither race was run.

“He’s 11 now, time catches up with us all. He won his Grand National off 159, so he’s only 4lb higher here. It’s a fair drop from the 171 which he was after his second National. It was difficult for Martin to drop the horse because he hasn’t run against Grade One horses, so we don’t know how good he is.

“He certainly looked as good last week as he had before in that race. What will make it difficult for Tiger Roll is that we have progressive novices in it, you don’t get those at Aintree.

“I’d love to see him run. I know he could run in the Betway Bowl, but he’d be wrong in that race against a few.”

The Bunny Boiler winning the Irish Grand National
The Bunny Boiler winning the Irish Grand National (Haydn West/PA)

One trainer with multiple entries is Noel Meade, who won the race with The Bunny Boiler in 2002.

“It is still my favourite win, I have to say. Fairyhouse to me was the place I got started as we weren’t a racing family, but we used to take a picnic there for the National,” said Meade.

“When I was growing up I had a scrapbook of Tom Dreaper and he won the National so many times – to stand in the place he did when I’d won was very special.

“I owe Ross Geraghty, Barry’s brother, for staying on him, he did everything he could to fall. He was quite a good horse, but a terrible jumper. Norman Williamson was telling me the other day that he won the Midlands National on him and was asked to ride at Fairyhouse but he said there was no chance he’d get round!”

Among Meade’s team are School Boy Hours and Brace Yourself, but both need plenty of withdrawals to guarantee a run in the maximum field of 30.

“School Boy Hours might not get in, but I always thought the trip would suit,” said Meade.

“Brace Yourself will take his chance, but wouldn’t want the ground too quick. Tout Est Permis hasn’t been running well, but he could go over to Aintree and see if a trip over livens him up. Brace Yourself is a fresh horse, but he’s only a novice.”

Tiger Roll team considering Betway Bowl option

Tiger Roll’s owners have raised the possibility of a trip to Aintree after all – but for the Betway Bowl.

The dual Randox Grand National winner produced another stunning display at the Cheltenham Festival on Wednesday when landing his third Glenfarclas Chase, his fifth win at the meeting overall.

In previous years Tiger Roll had gone on to win the National, but owners Gigginstown House Stud decided to remove Tiger Roll from the Aintree feature following the allocation of his weight, which they deemed to be “unfair”.

Keith Donoghue celebrates with Tiger Roll
Keith Donoghue celebrates with Tiger Roll (David Davies/Jockey Club)

However, in beating last year’s Glenfarclas winner Easysland by 18 lengths, Tiger Roll proved at the age of 11 he is as good as ever and could now get the chance to prove himself in a Grade One chase for the first time in his career.

Tiger Roll is currently in the care of Denise Foster while Gordon Elliott serves a suspension.

Eddie O’Leary, racing manager for Gigginstown, told Nick Luck’s Daily Podcast: “He seemed to jump off with a big smile on his face and as the race went on, he seemed to get better and better.

“Without getting too mad about him, I don’t think there’s been too many like him. Before this race came along, he kind of chucked racing. It was an amazing training performance by Gordon to get him back, and an amazing training performance by all at Cullentra to get him there yesterday in that kind of shape.

“Because he is what he is there are no races for him, and because of the famous handicap mark he has, there are no opportunities to get it down. He doesn’t really run on (conventional) tracks.

“We’ve absolutely no regrets about taking him out of the National as his rating is just too high. We’re probably going to have to run him at a park track, we’re even considering the Betway Bowl at Aintree.

“The way the horse won yesterday, retirement is off the table – he’s loving life and while he is we’ll listen to him.

“He’ll probably go for the Bowl and unfortunately he’ll prove he’s not that (166 rated), unless he is and then he’ll prove us all completely wrong.

“The Tiger we saw yesterday, you’d have to give him 10 out of 10, which is a testament to all at Cullentra.”

Tiger rolls back the years to win at Cheltenham again

Tiger Roll was an incredible winner at the Cheltenham Festival for the fifth time when reclaiming his Glenfarclas Chase crown in scintillating fashion.

Having hitherto disappointed this season, it seemed the form that had seen him win back-to-back Grand Nationals was in the past.

But back at his favourite track and sent off the 9-2 second-favourite behind his conqueror from last season, Easysland, he looked a lot younger than his 11 years skipping round the cross-country course.

The French challenger briefly closed up and looked threatening, but it soon became apparent that Keith Donoghue had only given Tiger Roll a breather.

He quickly went clear again and rounding the home turn the race was over, with his only danger in front of him – but he skipped the last and powered home by 18 lengths from Easysland, with Some Neck third.

Now in the care of Denise Foster following long-time trainer Gordon Elliott’s well-chronicled ban, Tiger Roll usually runs in this race prior to heading to Aintree for the National, but the decision was taken a few weeks ago to take him out of the race as connections believed his handicap mark was unfair.

Eddie O’Leary, racing manager for owners Gigginstown House Stud, said: “That was unbelievable – what a fantastic horse, we’re over the moon here. He’s a legend of a horse.

“There was a rush to retire this horse earlier in the season, but he’s a cross-country horse, that’s what he is, and we always said we’ll wait to see how he gets on over the cross-country fences once more. To win at five Festivals is amazing, what a horse.

“Aintree is off the agenda and we’ve no regrets about that. Both him and Easysland are rated too high. He is rated the equal of our Gold Cup horse, Delta Work, and we know he’s not as good.

“It’s going to be hard to retire him after that, now, and he loves racing in any case.

“He’ll probably have to run at Punchestown in the Grade One, where he will probably prove he is nowhere near a 166-rated horse, and it is a pity we have to do that.

“Cross-country racing got this horse back after he had completely lost his way, but we’ll have to go in a Grade One just to prove he has the wrong rating. He’s a cross-country horse, that’s what he is.

“Whatever we decide to do, and if he never wins another race, we will enjoy today.”

Donoghue said: “He really came alive today and jumped brilliant. I was in control of the race from halfway and within his comfort zone – when Tiger Roll is like that, you don’t take him back.

“We never doubted that we had him peaking for the right time. We were happy with his last run in Navan on ground that he absolutely hates.

“I knew the way he was going today, it would take a good horse to get by him.

“We had the faith and knew what this horse could show. There’s no better horse than Tiger Roll to silence the doubters.”

Tiger Roll came home well clear at Cheltenham
Tiger Roll came home well clear at Cheltenham (David Davies/PA)

Lisa O’Neill, representing Foster, said: “He’s a sensation – words cannot describe what he is.

“He means so much to the team at home. Some people might have lost a bit of faith after his last few runs, but we retained all the faith we had in him and knew he still retained plenty of fire in his belly. He showed it there today.

“I suppose he disappointed here in November and then had a run over hurdles. Neither of those runs were too encouraging, but he tells you when he’s feeling alive at home and he loves coming to Cheltenham and coming up that hill and the sun on his back.

“He showed what ability he has today to turn the tables on Easysland from last year.

Tiger Roll (right) clears the barrels on his way to victory
Tiger Roll (right) clears the barrels on his way to victory (Michael Steele/PA)

“He’s been a revelation for Keith and Davy Russell, of course, winning two Grand Nationals.

“He showed real enthusiasm and sweetness for the game today.”

On not running in National, she added: “Gigginstown thought it was the best choice to take him out and I suppose they have his best interests at heart.

“We’ll go home and speak to the owners and see what the plan is then.”

There was a sad postscript to the race, as it emerged Kings Temptation suffered a fatal injury.

Clerk of the course Simon Claisse said: “Sadly the Ben Case-trained Kings Temptation suffered a forelimb fracture in the cross-country race and had to be euthanised.”

Cheltenham Festival day two – All eyes on Chacun and Monkfish

Day two of the Cheltenham Festival is headlined by the Queen Mother Champion Chase – the pinnacle of the season for the sport’s most highly-regarded two-mile chasers.

Sadly, Altior is absent for the second year running, meaning this year’s renewal of the Betway-sponsored feature really does centre around the seemingly unstoppable Chacun Pour Soi. It is not a one-horse race, though, and last year’s winner Politologue will have his say – as will Dan Skelton’s Nube Negra, one of the few horses to have beaten Altior when impressing at Kempton over Christmas.

Willie Mullins and Chacun Pour Soi’s owner Rich Ricci team up again with the mighty Monkfish, who has defeated all-comers since winning the Albert Bartlett last season and is all the rage for the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase.

Wednesday is also the home of the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase, where Tiger Roll will line up for what could be his final race and the French raider Easysland will bid for a second successive triumph over the unique course.

The afternoon’s action is rounded off by the Weatherbys Champion Bumper, a race that provides a glimpse into the future as the next generation of National Hunt performers compete on the level for Grade One honours.

Bob Olinger another for dream team?

Bob Olinger is a strong contender for Ballymore honours
Bob Olinger is a strong contender for Ballymore honours (PA)

Bob Olinger tops the line-up for the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle, with the six-year-old bringing Grade One form to the table after winning the Lawlor’s of Naas Novice Hurdle on his last appearance. Trained by Henry de Bromhead and ridden by Rachael Blackmore, he will have an army of supporters. His chief rival is the Mullins-trained Gaillard Du Mesnil, who was also a Grade One winner last time out when triumphing at Leopardstown. Bravemansgame flies the flag for Paul Nicholls and heads to Prestbury Park off the back of an impressive 10-length Challow Novices’ Hurdle victory.

Monkfish riding the crest of a wave

Monkfish has been imperious over fences so far
Monkfish has been imperious over fences so far (PA)

Monkish takes centre stage in the the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase after a hugely impressive performance when winning the Flogas Novice Chase at Leopardstown. The victory was the chestnut’s sixth consecutive win and his suitability for the Cheltenham track was proven when he triumphed in the Albert Bartlett last year. He has scared off most of the opposition and the race looks his to lose.

Champion Pour Soi?

Paul Townend and Chacun Pour Soi at Leopardstown

The Ricci silks will be worn by the favourite again when the runners face the starter in the Queen Mother Champion Chase. This time it will be Chacun Pour Soi who carries his owner’s hopes as he bids to follow up his success in the Dublin Chase at Leopardstown – his fourth Grade One win over fences. Politilogue is defending his crown, while First Flow – who beat him at Ascot – would be a hugely popular winner for trainer Kim Bailey and jockey David Bass.

Will the Tiger stop rolling?

Easysland on his way to an impressive victory in the Glenfarclas Chase last year
Easysland on his way to an impressive victory in the Glenfarclas Chase last year (Andrew Matthews/PA)

Easysland travels from David Cottin’s French stable to attempt to retain his cross-country crown, a trophy he took from two-time winner Tiger Roll when prevailing by 17 lengths last year. Tiger Roll is also back, and his performance is likely to determine whether this is his last race. Hopefully that will not be the case, as this titan of the jumping scene deserves to bow in front of packed grandstands, not empty ones.

Mullins’ mighty bumper duo

Kilcruit is favourite to give Willie Mullins another Champion Bumper victory
Kilcruit is favourite to give Willie Mullins another Champion Bumper victory (Niall Carson/PA)

Mullins is synonymous with the Champion Bumper and has two major chances in Kilcruit and Sir Gerhard, the latter being a new addition to the yard after leaving the stable of Gordon Elliott. He is unbeaten and represents Cheveley Park Stud, who have won the last two runnings, most recently with the Mullins-trained Ferny Hollow. For his part, Kilcruit was completely dominant when winning the Grade Two bumper at the Dublin Racing Festival by 12 lengths.

Tiger ready to Roll in hunt for Glenfarclas Chase hat-trick

Tiger Roll will bid to reclaim his crown and become the first three-time winner of the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase at Cheltenham on Wednesday.

The 11-year-old claimed the prize in 2018 and 2019, but last season’s attempt at a third consecutive win was foiled by the French-trained Easysland.

Defeated by a conclusive 17 lengths, Tiger Roll has been beaten by similarly wide margins since and was pulled up when contesting the handicap chase run over the same cross-country course at Cheltenham’s November meeting.

Now campaigned by Denise Foster after the suspension of Gordon Elliott, the dual Grand National hero will cross paths with Easysland again at Cheltenham – where he is a four-time Festival winner – and is reported to be in fine fettle ahead of the contest.

Tiger Roll (right) schooling over Cheltenham's cross country fence ahead of his run the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase on Wednesday
Tiger Roll (right) schooling over Cheltenham’s cross country fence ahead of his run the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase on Wednesday (David Davies/PA)

“Keith (Donoghue, jockey) rang after schooling Tiger Roll this morning and tells me he’s in great form,” Foster said.

“He seemed in super form at home before he left.

“I watched him last week and he was very bullish in himself, which is hopefully a good sign.

“The truth is only Tiger really knows how he’s feeling, but he obviously likes Cheltenham and Keith seems very happy with him.”

On the same card is a notably competitive renewal of the Weatherbys Champion Bumper, with Willie Mullins seemingly well positioned to take an 11th victory in the Grade One race.

Kilcruit ridden by Patrick Mullins after the Goffs Future Stars (C & G) I.N.H. Flat Race during day one of the Dublin Racing Festival at Leopardstown Racecourse
Kilcruit ridden by Patrick Mullins after the Goffs Future Stars (C & G) I.N.H. Flat Race during day one of the Dublin Racing Festival at Leopardstown Racecourse (Niall Carson/PA)

Kilcruit heads the market after a commanding victory at Leopardstown last month, where he was completely unchallenged as he cruised to an easy 12-length success.

“Kilcruit put up a huge performance at the Dublin Racing Festival and I was very pleased,” Mullins said of the run.

“I was gobsmacked actually at how well he won on the day, and I’m hoping he can put a similar kind of performance in at Cheltenham.”

Mullins will also saddle the undefeated Sir Gerhard, who joined his yard earlier in the month from Elliott.

“Sir Gerhard is a fine horse,” he said of the Cheveley Park-owned gelding.

“His form looks very good and he looks like he could be anything, as he’s got all the qualities of a good horse.

“It’s going to be very tough changing stables so soon before the race, but we’ll see what we can do.”

Paul Nicholls will be hoping for a first success in the contest as he sends out Shearer, a five-year-old son of Flemensfirth.

The gelding was last seen triumphing by nine lengths in a bumper at Warwick, before which he was beaten by just a head on his racecourse debut.

“Shearer is a very nice horse,” Nicholls said.

“He was named after Alan Shearer and I know Alan has followed him.

“He just got beaten on his debut at Hereford and then won well at Warwick on ground that was far too testing for him.

“He’s had a nice break and has improved, he definitely deserves to take his chance.”

‘All systems go’ for Tiger Roll at Cheltenham

Tiger Roll remains on course to reclaim his cross-country crown in the Glenfarclas Chase at Cheltenham on Wednesday.

The dual Grand National winner lifted the prize in 2018 and 2019, but was comprehensively beaten by Easysland 12 months ago.

He has been out of form so far this season, but he is a four-time Festival winner and connections are hoping the 11-year-old can recapture his sparkle on familiar turf.

“Touch wood, it’s all systems go, hopefully. All is going well so far,” said Eddie O’Leary, racing manager for owners Gigginstown House Stud.

The owners also have Alpha Des Obeaux and Balko Des Flos among the 15 six-day confirmations.

“The plan is for all three to run,” O’Leary added.

Tiger Roll and Alpha Des Obeaux are in the care of Denise Foster while Gordon Elliott serves the suspension handed to him earlier this month. Henry de Bromhead trains Balko Des Flos.

Easysland, trained in France by David Cottin, has something to prove after finishing fourth to Kingswell Theatre over this course and distance in November on his only run since the Festival last year.

Easysland will try to repeat last year's success in the Glenfarclas Chase
Easysland will try to repeat last year’s success in the Glenfarclas Chase (Andrew Matthews/PA)

Kingswell Theatre renews rivalry, while Le Breuil and Potters Corner are among other favourites looking to take their chance.

The Willie Mullins-trained Monkfish is the pick of 14 six-day confirmations for the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase.

Last year’s Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle scorer has made a tremendous start to his career over fences. The seven-year-old has won all his three races, including two Grade Ones at Leopardstown.

Mullins has a second string in Asterion Forlonge.

Monkfish is a warm order for the Brown Advisory Novices' Chase
Monkfish is a warm order for the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase (Niall Carson/PA)

Latest Exhibition, who has finished second to Monkfish three times, has been left in by his trainer Paul Nolan.

De Bromhead’s Eklat De Rire has looked to have plenty of stamina in winning both his starts over the bigger obstacles so far.

The main British hopefuls are the Paul Nicholls-trained Next Destination, who has other Cheltenham entries, Colin Tizzard’s The Big Breakaway and Sporting John for Philip Hobbs. Venetia Williams has kept Royale Pagaille in, but he appears more likely to run in the National Hunt Chase on Tuesday.

Bob Olinger, from the De Bromhead stable, features among 19 acceptors for the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle. The six-year-old showed his potential when winning the Grade One Naas Novice Hurdle.

Mullins still has seven possibles, including Gaillard Du Mesnil, Appreciate It, who is favourite for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle on the opening day, and Ganapathi, while Joseph O’Brien has an interesting candidate in Keskonrisk.

Leading the home contingent is the Nicholls-trained Bravemansgame, Tom Lacey’s Adrimel and Nicky Martin’s Bear Ghylls.

Top-weight Thomas Darby, trained by Olly Murphy, is one of 55 horses confirmed for the Coral Cup for which the maximum field allowed is 26.

Thomas Darby heads the weights for the Coral Cup
Thomas Darby heads the weights for the Coral Cup (Mike Egerton/PA)

The horses at the forefront of the ante-post market – Grand Roi, Koshari, You Raised Me Up, Botox Has, Great White Shark and Monte Cristo – all stood their ground.

A maximum field of 20 can go to post for the Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Challenge Cup Handicap Chase for which 31 still remain.

The hopefuls include the O’Brien-trained trio of Entoucas, Embittered and Us And Them, Jonjo O’Neill’s Sky Pirate and Emmet Mullins’ The Shunter, who has five entries at the Festival.

Trainer Willie Mullins appears to hold the aces in the Weatherbys Champion Bumper
Trainer Willie Mullins appears to hold the aces in the Weatherbys Champion Bumper (Niall Carson/PA)

Market rivals Kilcruit and Sir Gerhard are among 18 possibles for the Weatherbys Champion Bumper.

Both are with Mullins, with Sir Gerhard having moved from the Elliott stable.

Foster has three in Chemical Energy, Hollow Games and Three Strip Life, while Dan Skelton’s Elle Est Belle, the O’Neill-trained Pressure Sensitive and Nigel Twiston-Davies’ Super Six are among the home defence.

Irish Grand National Trends

Staged at Fairyhouse racecourse the 2021 Irish Grand National is run over a trip of 3m5f with 24 fences to be jumped.

The gruelling contest is always staged on Easter Monday (5th April 2021), while several Irish Grand National winners have also won the Aintree Grand National, but none in the same season – Bobbyjo and Numbersixvalverde are recent examples of this.

For example, did you know? The 16 of the last 17 winners carried 10-13 or less in weight, while 14 of the last 17 successful horses were Irish-bred. We’ve also seen just three winning favourites in the last 17 renewals, while in 2019, trainer Willie Mullins landed his first Irish Grand National with the 6-year-old Burrows Saint.

Recent Irish Grand National Winners

2020 - No Race (Covid)
2019 – BURROWS SAINT (6/1 fav)
2017 – OUR DUKE (9/2 fav)
2016 – ROGUE ANGEL (16/1)
2015 – THUNDER AND ROSES (20/1)
2014 – SHUTTHEFRONTDOOR (8/1 fav)
2013 – LIBERTY COUNSEL (50/1)
2012 – LION NA BEARNAI (33/1)
2010 – BLUESEA CRACKER (25/1)
2009 – NICHE MARKET (33/1)
2008 – HEAR THE ECHO (33/1)
2007 – BUTLER’S CABIN (14/1)
2006 – POINT BARROW (20/1)
2004 – GRANIT D’ESTRUVAL (33/1)
2003 – TIMBERA (11/1)

Irish Grand National Betting Trends

16/17 – Carried 10-13 or LESS
16/17 – Had raced within the last 8 weeks
16/17 – Won over at least 3m previously
15/17 – Winning distance – 5 lengths or less
14/17 – Irish bred
14/17 – Carried 10-8 or LESS
13/17 – Came from outside the top 3 in the betting
13/17 – Returned a double-figure price
14/17 – Aged 9 or younger
12/17 – Carried 10-6 or LESS
13/17 – Won by an Irish-based trainer
12/17 – Had raced at Fairyhouse previously
11/17 – Unplaced favourites
10/17 – Finished fourth or better last time out
10/17 – Had raced within the last 4 weeks
8/17 – Rated between 130-136
4/17 – Won by an English-based trainer
3/17 – Ran at Navan last time out
3/17 – Won last time out
3/17 – Winning favourites
The average winning SP in the last 16 years is 21/1
Trainer Willie Mullins is yet to win the race
Only two horses since 2000 to win with more than 11-0, Our Duke (2017) & Commanche Court (2000)


Let’s take a look at some of the key trends………………

Weight – You can start your weight cut-off point at 10st 13lbs or less as 16 of the last 17 winners ticked this trend, but you can also take this a bit further too. With 82% of the last 17 winners having 10st 8lbs or less, then you could whittle down the runners further with this stat, or if you’re feeling a bit braver, then it could pay to note 12 of the last 17 winners (71%) won with just 10st 6lbs or less on their backs.

Recent Run/Form – Having a recent run within the last eight weeks is another trend to have on your side – 16 of the last 17 winners supported this trend, plus 10 of the last 17 ran in the last 4 weeks. The same amount had also won a race over at least 3m in the past, while 10 of the last 17 winners came into the race off a top four finish last time out, but it’s worth pointing out only 3 of the last 17 won their last outing.

Track Form – The most recent winner of the race – Burrows Saint – was having his debut run at Fairyhouse, but in general previous experience of the course is certainly something to look for with 12 of the last 17 successful horses having raced at the track before.

Betting – In the last 17 runnings, the average winning SP has been 20/1 – this tells us to not be afraid to look a bit further down the market for the winner. Yes, the 2019 winner – Burrows Saint – was sent off at the 6/1 favourite, but he was only the third winning market leader since 2003 and we’ve seen 11 of the last 17 jollies finish unplaced. This is further backed up with 13 of the last 17 winners coming from outside the top three in the market and also returning a double-figure price.

Age – Unlike the Aintree Grand National, where horses aged 7 or younger have struggled in recent times, the Irish version has been okay for the younger runners. The most recent winner – Burrows Saint was a 6 year-old when he won in 2019, while 50% of the last six winners have been aged 7 – did you know, the last 7 year-old to land the Aintree Grand National was in 1940! We saw a couple of 10 year-olds win the Irish National in 2012 and 2013, but since 1998 (22 runnings) we’ve had 19 runners aged 9 or younger.