At just under 16 hands high, Tiger Roll is small for a steeplechaser and was, in fact, originally bought by owner Michael O’Leary to win the Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival. However, Tiger Roll proved significantly better than anticipated, winning the Grade One Triumph Hurdle, on just his second start for his new connections, in 2014.
Subsequently, despite his diminutive size, fences have been the making of him. Of course, in April, 2019, he made history by becoming the first horse since Red Rum, in 1974, to win the Grand National two years running, but he also has three further successes at the Cheltenham Festival to his name. He won the National Hunt Chase in 2017 and the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase two years running, in 2018 and 2019, en route to victory in the Grand National.
Still only a nine-year-old, Tiger Roll takes the odd liberty with an obstacle but, although he did once unseat his rider in a novices’ chase at Galway, when bumped by a rival at the second-last fence, he has never fallen. So, while Michael O’Leary has said that Tiger Roll is ‘very unlikely’ to run in the Grand National in 2020, another win in the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase – which would be his fifth at the Cheltenham Festival – looks within the realms of possibility.
Which horse, if any, won the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 2001, depends largely on whether you believe that the Tote Gold Trophy Chase, run over 3 miles at Sandown, was a worthy substitute for the Gold Cup. If you do, you could argue that Marlborough, trained by Nicky Henderson and ridden by Mick Fitzgerald, was effectively the winner of the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 2001.
However, the Tote Gold Trophy Chase, which was run on the penultimate day of the National Hunt season, April 27, was billed only as ‘a substitute Gold Cup, of sorts’ after attracting just seven runners. Admittedly, one of them was First Gold, trained in Chantilly, France by François Doumen and arguably the best steeplechaser in Europe after winning the King George VI Chase at Kempton and the Martell Cup at Aintree. However, First Gold, who was sent off at 8/13 favourite, blundered and unseated his rider before halfway, leaving Marlborough to beat 33/1 outsider Go Ballistic by a short head in a driving finish.
The four ‘championship’ races usually run at the Cheltenham Festival, including the Cheltenham Gold Cup, were described by Paul Hayward in the Guardian as turning up at Sandown ‘like refugees from a terrible disease’; a apt description in light of the postponement, and eventual cancellation, of the Cheltenham Festival due to an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease. In any event, the Tote Gold Trophy Chase was, as later described by the Racing Post, ‘no substitute for the Gold Cup’, so the words ‘NO RACE’ opposite the year 2001 on the historic trophy seem entirely fair and fitting.