Tiger Roll 'absolutely bouncing' as Elliott ponders surprise return to the Flat

Tiger Roll, the most popular jumps horse in training, could make a surprise return to action on the Flat at Navan next week, according to his trainer Gordon Elliott.

The Grade 1 Ladbrokes Champion Chase had been mentioned as a possible destination for Tiger Roll's seasonal return but Elliott revealed that, if the dual Grand National winner runs at Navan, he will not go to Down Royal at the end of the month.

Elliott said: “Tiger Roll is absolutely bouncing at home and he could start back in a Flat maiden at Navan next week.”

He added: “We had been thinking of starting him back in the Ladbrokes Champion Chase at Down Royal this month, provided the ground wasn't soft, but when we saw this race we said we'd give him an entry and keep all of our options open.

“He was second on the Flat for me at Dundalk a good few seasons back and it's something we've done with plenty of other good jumps horses of ours before. 

“Felix Desjy won on the Flat in the summer before he went back jumping. It's better than a racecourse gallop.”

If Tiger Roll is to return to the level at Navan, Elliott is likely to look for a hurdle race instead of tackling fences with the ten-year-old, who is a general 16-1 chance to win a third successive Grand National next spring, a feat no horse has ever managed.

Elliott said: “If he does run at Navan, we will probably look for a hurdle race for him somewhere, as he wouldn't do the two [Navan and Down Royal]. It’s not definite that he runs at Navan and he could still go for Down Royal instead. We’ll have a chat and make a decision next week but, like I said, I couldn't be happier with him at home.”

Tiger Roll failed to secure a fifth Cheltenham festival success - and a third in the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase - back in March when second to Easysland on soft ground.

The Gigginstown House Stud-owned great was making the festival by the skin of his teeth after suffering a setback in November that ruled him out until February.

Denied a chance of defending his Grand National crowd and emulating Red Rum by winning the race for a third time when the Aintree meeting was abandoned due to Covid-19, Elliott labelled the season’s premature end a blessing in disguise for Tiger Roll, who is reported to be back to his best at home on the gallops at Cullentra House.

Elliott said: “We made no secret about 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 [Easysland]last season. 

“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, wherever that may be.”

Speaking about spring targets, Elliott added: “The plan is to go back for the cross-country at Cheltenham and then obviously all of 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.”

A versatile career

Tiger Roll’s career has followed a unique path, with the Flat-bred son of Authorized winning at distances ranging from 2m½f to his two victories over 4m2½f in the Grand National at Aintree.

From humble beginnings in a juvenile hurdle at Market Rasen for trainer Nigel Hawke, Tiger Roll has developed into a household name, not just because of his National double but also his exploits at the Cheltenham Festival, where he is a four-time winner.

His Triumph Hurdle win on his second start for Gordon Elliott remains his only Grade 1 win despite five subsequent attempts at the top level, most recently in the 2015 Punchestown Champion Hurdle when he was last of four behind Faugheen.

However, it was his transition to fences in the seasons which followed that allowed his reputation to soar, with a lengthy season as a novice chaser leading to a gusty win in the 4m National Hunt Chase at the festival.

And then came his cross-country chapter, with both of his wins in the Glenfarclas Chase at the Cheltenham Festival – the second by an easy 22 lengths – followed by National triumphs at Aintree.

He was last seen in the cross-country race he had made his own at the festival when beaten 17 lengths by Easysland, but a potential return to the Flat next week – it will be his second start on the Flat after a spin around Dundalk in 2016 – should be no surprise for followers of a National hero whose career can be epitomised as much by his versatility as his ability to perform on the big days.