Tiger Roll sauntered to a second victory in the Glenfarclas Chase over the cross-country fences at Cheltenham to tee himself up perfectly for back-to-back wins in the Grand National.
He is, however, not guaranteed to return to Aintree for the world’s greatest steeplechase on April 6, with connections sounding a warning note.
Gordon Elliott’s diminutive nine-year-old was winning at the Festival for the fourth time, emulating Altior in the process, and while his races may not have been as prestigious, with the Triumph Hurdle and National Hunt Chase also in the bag, it is no less meritorious.
After his victory in the corresponding race 12 months ago, Tiger Roll went to Aintree and won the biggest race of them all and he is now as low as 6-1 favourite to become the first dual National winner since Red Rum.
It stopped what had been up to that point a pretty miserable Festival for Elliott, who had seen four favourites beaten in the first two days with little to cheer about.
But with Keith Donoghue doing the steering there was very little to worry about, as the 5-4 favourite pulled a yawning 22 lengths clear of Josies Orders, with last year’s runner-up Urgent De Gregaine third this time.
Elliott said: “Everyone knows it’s been a rough week. Horses haven’t been running up to par, a few of them haven’t been good enough and things haven’t been working.
“We’re lucky enough that we’ve got a good bunch of owners and a good bunch of horses. We’ll keep smiling and keep kicking.
“This horse has won at four Cheltenham Festivals now and a Grand National. He’s our first winner of the week and I won’t forget him.
“In his last run in the Boyne Hurdle he looked as good as he ever was and today he was brilliant. I’m very lucky to have him.
“You win the Grand National by accident and we’ve won it twice. It’s a big ask for this horse to do it again, but what he has done there today has been brilliant and we’ll enjoy it.
“To win at four Cheltenham Festivals is class.”
While he looks very much the one to beat at Aintree, owner Michael O’Leary, of Gigginstown House Stud, indicated it was far from a priority.
He said: “It’s phenomenal. I read this morning that no horse has ever retained the cross-country, so I didn’t think it would happen for him.
“It’s a great training performance and this was his Gold Cup this year.
“He’s won four times here in Cheltenham now and that doesn’t happen too often. You still pinch yourself. We bought this horse to win a Triumph Hurdle and he comes back here and wins a slog-fest.
“He’s going to have it all to do if he goes back for the National. He’s going to have a lot more weight to carry – he’s more highly rated this year.
“I’d be really worried about sending him back there. He barely scraped over the line last year and he’s up 9lb in the ratings.
“It’s not certain he’ll run in the National. We have others for the race and I’m more worried about minding him now than going back to try to win another.
“He’s small of frame and small of stature and he owes us nothing. He’s been an amazing horse.
“We didn’t get have a good day yesterday and we’ve had four favourites beaten and beaten badly.
“It’s great to see Tiger Roll dig us out and put us on the board and put Gordon on the board, which is very important.
“It doesn’t matter who is riding him, Tiger Roll does the business.”