Horse racing is all about trying to defy the odds, but the journey of Tiger Roll is one of the most remarkable in equine sport.
He was bred to race on the Flat for Godolphin supremo Sheikh Mohammed – a man who has owned some of the best in the world to grace a track in the last 30 years.
Tiger Roll isn’t the biggest racehorse, and his original owner put him up for sale, confident in advising that he would never amount to anything.
In the sport of kings, it seems even the great and the good can be wrong. Tiger Roll won his racetrack debut at Market Rasen during November 2013 in a five-runner juvenile hurdle.
Sheikh Mohammed might not have seen anything in him, but powerful Irish jumps owners Gigginstown House Stud clearly liked the look of his debut.
They bought Tiger Roll from Nigel Hawke’s stable and sent him to Ireland to be trained in County Meath by Gordon Elliott. The rest is history.
His debut in the Emerald Isle didn’t exactly go according to plan. Tiger Roll, ridden that day by Bryan Cooper who dropped his whip after the final hurdle, finished second when thrown in at the deep end of a Grade 1 at Leopardstown.
Going one better at the 2014 Cheltenham Festival saw him capture the Triumph Hurdle at odds of 10/1 under Davy Russell, but Tiger Roll couldn’t follow-up in the equivalent at Punchestown.
Although he then won an age-restricted hurdle back at Cheltenham the following season, it was at this time that his form deserted him. Tiger Roll was at a crossroads in any jumps racehorse’s career.
Taking on older and better-developed animals is always challenging. Tiger Roll would win just three of his next 19 starts, during which time Elliott switched him to steeplechases.
On his day, he still put in decent displays like when winning the 2016 Munster National at Limerick. The problem was consistency, with Tiger Roll not convincing his owners that he would make a chaser and backing up a good run from one race to the next.
A second Cheltenham Festival win in the 2017 National Hunt Chase was followed by him pulling up in the Irish Grand National. Elliott’s persistence paid off when they switched the diminutive Tiger Roll to the Cross Country discipline.
These races with a variety of different jumps are similar to the Grand National at Aintree. That world-famous handicap steeplechase is now synonymous with Tiger Roll, because of what he achieved next.
After one spin around Cheltenham’s Cross Country course, he returned there and won for the third time in 2018. Grand National glory followed when Tiger Roll just held fellow Irish racehorse Pleasant Company by a head.
Elliott talked about training him to win both races again. It hadn’t been done since Red Rum in the 1970s, but the betting on Aintree Racecourses for Tiger Roll’s repeat Grand National bid soon had him a hot favorite after he retained his Cross Country crown.
It was the nature of his impressive fourth victory at Cheltenham that caused the plunge. In typical spring-heeled fashion and, despite being higher in the weights, Tiger Roll made history by winning consecutive Grand Nationals when sent off a very short price 4/1.
Already guaranteed a place in British horse racing history, what is left for Tiger Roll to achieve in the later stages of his racing career?
The temptation to defy the handicapper again and win the Grand National for a third year – this time off topweight – must surely be there.
Tiger Roll is favorite on leading betting exchange Betfair to complete his hat-trick at Aintree despite being sure to head the weights when they are published and if entered in February.
It will take a herculean effort but, if his story so far is any indicator, there may room for one final chapter.