The lines between truth and fiction were never more blurred than at Cheltenham on Wednesday when Tiger Roll recaptured his roar to score a fifth festival success.
Even the most popular little horse in training could not have been fancied with any great confidence as he arrived for his seventh Cheltenham Festival on the back of a series of sluggish performances throughout the winter.
There was no win to his name since securing his second Grand National in the spring of 2019, either, but it is this time of year which is clearly the key to him.
As soon as the evenings are getting brighter and the daffodils are beginning to shoot out of the ground, Tiger Roll’s stride quickens up a notch or two and nothing could live with the 11-year-old who hit full bloom on the big stage once again.
“He really came alive,” is how Keith Donoghue, the man who has been aboard for all three of Tiger Roll’s Cross Country victories, summed up the performance.
“We said we’d change the tactics with him today – we’d jump him out, take a lead, sit him second or third and make up his mind. He jumped brilliantly and I was in control of the race after halfway. He was just in his comfort zone and when Tiger comes alive like that you don’t take him back.”
“We never doubted that we had him peaking at the right time. It’s well known that we didn’t have the preparation with him we wanted last year.
“We were happy with his run at Navan on ground that he absolutely hates. We had the faith. We always knew what this horse could show and there’s none better than Tiger Roll to prove the doubters wrong.”
Those closest to Tiger Roll, who joined Golden Miller on five Cheltenham Festival wins and now sits only one behind Quevega, may have retained hope but punters allowed him to go off at 9-2.
However, the defending champion and even-money favourite Easysland was soon struggling behind Tiger Roll and finished 18 lengths adrift at the winning line.
Donoghue said: “I knew at halfway it would take a good horse to go by him today because of the way he was going and how he was jumping. It’s unbelievable – there’s no better feeling in the world. I wish I could do it again!
“He’s a very good horse, but is it the Cross Country jumps that make the best of him? I’m not sure he’d be as good over park fences or hurdles.
“We don’t know, but we think there’s something about the Cross Country fences that sparks him up and obviously the National fences do the same. When Tiger Roll is on a going day, it takes a very good horse to beat him.”
Gigginstown House Stud have had their famous maroon and white silks carried to victory in some of the greatest jumps races around but Eddie O’Leary, who manages the operation for his brother Michael, admitted Wednesday’s success was up there with their best days in the game.
O’Leary also insisted that he had no regrets in taking Tiger Roll out of the Grand National at the latest forfeit stage due to what he and his brother believed was an unfair allotment of weight from the British handicapper.
O’Leary said: “You couldn’t put into words what that means. What a legend. What a bloody legend. There is no end to him.
“You couldn’t retire him after that. I’m delighted for the whole team at Cullentra. It means the world to us all and it is without doubt one of our best days in racing.
“There was a rush to retire this horse when he disappointed at Cheltenham back in November but he had a smile on his face there today. The ground was the difference. At this stage in his career, he knows what he likes and what he doesn’t like.
“We have no regrets about the Grand National. None whatsoever. He is too highly rated. You can’t compare these cross-country horses to Gold Cup horses but he’s rated the same as our Gold Cup horse Delta Work which is ridiculous. Tiger Roll and Easysland have ridiculous ratings. Sorry, they are not Gold Cup horses.
“What age was Red Rum when he won his third Grand National? 12. What age is Tiger? 11. Red Rum was dropped seven pounds eventually as a 12-year-old. Hopefully Tiger will get the chance to go back to Aintree next year.”