Tiger Roll, the winner of the last two Grand Nationals, is 10 days away from resuming light exercise as he builds towards a possible return to Aintree in April. Whether he will make the trip to Liverpool, however, even if he is fit and primed to perfection, is a question for another day.
Or, more probably, days, weeks and months. Gordon Elliott, who will equal the record for Grand National victories if one of his runners wins on 4 April, said here that “in my mind, it is the race we have been training him for ever since he won it last year”.
And yet it is only a fortnight since Michael O’Leary, owner of the nine-year-old Tiger Roll, suggested the chances of his chaser returning to Aintree for an attempt to join Red Rum as the only three-time National winner were “slim and none”.
This quote tennis between owner and trainer seems likely to continue into the new year and on towards 11 February, when the weights for this year’s race will be published in Liverpool. Five days later, the Boyne Hurdle at Navan could mark Tiger Roll’s return to action after having a bone chip removed from a joint this month.
“The procedure he had went well, and he’s on box-rest until Friday week,” Elliott said. “Then the bandage comes off and he’ll start back walking. He’ll do three weeks walking and then all being well, we’ll be back cantering.
“He was at full fitness and almost ready to run when it happened. It’s not ideal, but if it had happened in January or February, it would be a lot worse. The Boyne Hurdle is where we’d love to go, but if he doesn’t get there there’s a fair chance he could go straight to Cheltenham [in March] for the cross-country race.
“He carried 11st 5lb last year. We know he’s going to have top weight, we’re not stupid. Would he have won with 5lb more last year? He probably would, so if he gets 5lb more this year, we’ll be happy.
“I never second-guess what Michael O’Leary does. Of course you read it [the owner’s comments], it’s your job, but the dream is to get this horse back for the Grand National and to run in it would be awesome and if he could head out to the last circuit with a live chance it would be some atmosphere.”Elliott, who saddled 11 runners in last year’s race, said on Wednesday that if the Grand National entries were to be made tomorrow, he would probably have 15 names on the list. “They’ll all be in the handicap and they will all be entitled to run,” he said.
The potential back-ups to Tiger Roll include Borice, this year’s Galway Plate winner, who will make his first start since in the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury on Saturday. Jury Duty, the American Grand National winner, and the Cheltenham Festival winners Storyteller and Shattered Love are also under consideration for next year’s race.
“Borice is in good form,” Elliott said. “He worked yesterday morning, did his last bit of work. I actually thought of this horse last year as a National horse but I just didn’t get the rub of the green with him.
“I suppose the one thing I don’t know is that he’s won on heavy ground at Auteuil [in Paris] but this would be the heaviest he’s experienced this side of that.”
Borice is a 12-1 chance for Saturday’s race at Newbury, in a market headed by Nicky Henderson’s Ok Corral at 6-1.
Thursday’s best bets, by Chris Cook
A couple of last-time-out winners appeal as they try their luck at Taunton. Manofthemountain (2.15), who had experience in an Irish point early last year, is now unbeaten in two tries over fences and seems to have started in that sphere on a very fair mark, judging by wins at Newton Abbot and Southwell.
Today’s 13-runner field asks more questions but he has Nico de Boinville aboard to help out and there was nothing among the opposition that grabbed me by the throat. He got his rating from two placed efforts over hurdles last winter and has since switched yards, had a wind op and stepped up in distance, so the possible reasons for improvement are legion. He has a half-brother with three wins from higher ratings than the one he has today.
Highway To Success (2.50) was the nap last week when scoring at 5-1 at Wincanton. Judging by the extraordinary run he put in that day, he has started in handicaps off a very nice mark and connections are obliged to have another go just seven days later because he can run without a penalty and will be 9lb higher in future.
These things often run into trouble and he’ll have a big field to weave through but 5-2 is fair enough about Suzi Best’s youngster.
Rebecca Curtis could have a good day at Ffos Las, including with Dalaman (2.05), who had some excuses for a fruitless last season with another yard. He’s back down to his last winning mark and the 11-2 appeals against a handful of rivals with no secrets from anyone.
At Chelmsford tonight, Muntadab (5.30) is worth a look, having dropped to his lowest rating since scoring at Newmarket 14 months ago. He finished weakly in a couple of soft-ground races last month but this belated return to an all-weather surface could well help and he’s widely available at 9-1, even 12-1 in places.