The Cheltenham Festival is now less than a month away and the excitement is starting to build for the four-day meeting at Prestbury Park. Punters are checking the form guides and scouring the internet for the best Cheltenham odds, whilst the biggest of horse racing fans have been keeping a close eye on the races in the build up to the famous meeting.
The Grade Two Boyne Hurdle at Navan in Ireland last Sunday attracted a lot of attention as two-time Grand National winner and four-time Cheltenham champion Tiger Roll made his return to the track for the first time since last year’s National victory.
The Gordon Elliott-trained horse finished fifth and was beaten by over 14 lengths by stablemate Cracking Smart, who was ridden by Davy Russell – the jockey who steered Tiger Roll to his successive National victories.
The 10-year-old showed what he’s worth early on, but tiredness took its toll before the last hurdle. However, there were promising signs that he could get his fifth victory in the Cotswolds and his third in a row in the Cross Country Chase – and if you’re looking for Cheltenham betting tips, he can be backed at 11/8 best price.
“He finished fifth but for me that was as good as winning,” said a pleased Elliott afterwards.
“I’m absolutely thrilled. Keith [Donoghue] said he just blew up. I couldn’t be happier. That’s not the ground he wants, but anyone could see how well he travelled, and you couldn’t be anything but happy with it.
“I thought there were a lot of pluses to be taken out of it. Keith said he pulled the arms out of him the whole way around. We can really look forward to the cross country at Cheltenham with him now.”
Whether or not Tiger Roll will get another crack at the Grand National is still up in the air following last week’s weights announcement. However, should he get another chance he could become the first horse to win the illustrious race three times since the legendary Red Rum, and the first to be victorious three times on the trot. He would also be the first horse to win the National as top weight since the iconic Rummy.
When asked what else Tiger Roll will do in preparation for the festival next month, Elliott added: “He will go to Cheltenham next week or the week after to have a pop around the course and then have another racecourse gallop somewhere and that will be him ready.”
Meanwhile, the 16/1 outsider, Cracking Smart, had the spotlight stolen by his stablemate. It was the 8-year-old’s first victory in 12 outings, dating back to November 2017 when he won the Paddy Power Acca Insurance Irish EBF Novice Hurdle in Cork, but still it was Tiger Roll posing for the cameras.
It really was a shock victory for the Elliott-trained horse, who has been beaten by some huge margins in his last few races, including coming eighth out of 17 horses and 24 lengths behind winner Faugheen at Punchestown last November and seventh out of 15 and 21 lengths off the pace-setter Alfa Mix at Navan the following month.
After the upset, Elliott revealed that Cracking Smart will now be entered in some of the handicaps at Cheltenham, although here’s hoping he keeps up his good form as he finished 11th in his last and only attempt in a Cheltenham Handicap Hurdle at last year’s festival.