'He's one of the best ever' - 16-year-old rider ecstatic to partner Tiger Roll

4.15 Navan
Flower Hill Maiden | 1m6f | 3yo+ | RTV

Sixteen-year-old Sam Ewing has described Tiger Roll as "one of the best horses ever" and cannot believe his luck in getting the chance to partner the legendary two-time Grand National hero at Navan on Thursday.

A 1m6f Flat race on a tepid Thursday afternoon in October with a teenager on board is probably not the way we expected Tiger Roll to reappear, but this is 2020 and Gordon Elliott has chosen the Flower Hill Maiden as the first stop on the road back to Aintree in April.

Tiger Roll was deprived of an opportunity to create history last April when the world's most famous race was cancelled due to Covid-19, but the Grand National is once again the ultimate aim for the pint-sized pocket rocket.

Ewing does not turn 17 until December, but has already ridden nine winners in his short career and the son of leading point-to-point trainer Warren is already being touted as the next big thing. Elliott and the O'Leary brothers must think so, too, as they have called him up for one of the most coveted rides in racing.

The rider said: "When I saw that he was entered, I said to myself, 'Whoever gets the ride is going to be one lucky man'. Lo and behold, the lucky man is actually me! I can't believe it. He is one of the best horses ever and I'm getting a chance to ride him. It's unbelievable. He's our Red Rum.

"My agent Kevin [O'Ryan] texted me around ten o'clock on Tuesday morning and I just couldn't wait to ring my Mam and Dad to tell them. When you're just 16 you don't expect to be getting rides like that."

If you thought Ewing was going to be nervous, think again.

"God, no, I won't be nervous at all. I've been doing this for long enough. I know what I'm doing," he said.

Ewing, a native of Templepatrick in County Antrim, was a pony racing sensation and obviously caught the eye of Eddie O'Leary as he carried the colours of his wife, Wendy, to victory in a nursery at Dundalk this month on the Ger Lyons-trained Fight Zone.

The jockey added: "It is massive for Gordon and the O'Learys to have put their trust in a 7lb claimer. I feel very privileged.

"Things have been going great for me this season. Ger Lyons has backed me from day one and he has been a huge help. Thursday at Navan is going to be very special. Hopefully Tiger Roll can run well and, if he were to win, it would be an added bonus."

Elliott has issued an upbeat bulletin on Tiger Roll and is looking forward to getting him back to the track. 

He said: "He's absolutely bouncing at home. The plan is to go back for the cross-country at Cheltenham and then all the talk will be about Aintree, but we'll be training him for Cheltenham first and foremost. He's in serious form at home and I couldn't be happier with him.

"We made no secret of the fact he had a less-than-ideal prep for Cheltenham and then the ground turned up soft on the day when he was second to a very good horse.

"It was going to be a bit of a rush to build him back up for a Grand National and, in hindsight, what happened with the race may have been a blessing in disguise as far as he was concerned. He's a different horse now compared to this time last year and we can't wait to start him back."

Tiger Roll faces nine rivals, including the 77-rated Ciel D'Afrique from the Dermot Weld stable, the Aidan O'Brien-trained Greek Gladiator and promising hurdler Jesse Evans.