Easysland over Tiger Roll in Cross Country Handicap at Cheltenham

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The owners of Tiger Roll seem adamant that the cross country race at the Cheltenham Festival in March is the objective for the season. However, the world and his wife probably believe there will be a shot at horse racing immortality with a run in the Grand National at Aintree the following month.

We should get more clues about Tiger Roll’s target in the handicap chase over a variety of obstacles at the home of the jumps on Friday. However, at the current odds, Easysland is the best bet at -137.49 with UK bookmakers, and the outcome could see some changes in the National ante-post betting. 

Tiger Roll is the current favourite for the most famous steeplechase in the world. The two-time winner could not go for three wins in three years because there was no race in 2020. No horse has won three successive Nationals, and only Red Rum has won three in total (1973, 1974 and 1977). Potentially, Friday’s race could be a trial for the Aintree marathon. 

The winner in 2018 and 2019 will be 11 next April and not in the right age group to win the National. However, the collection of jumps over the cross country course at Cheltenham might be more in his comfort zone than another Grand National over four miles and three furlongs. 

Easysland is third in the Grand National betting, but defending the cross country crown at Cheltenham in March is the more likely assignment. The six-year-old beat Tiger Roll by 17 lengths in second place while carrying the same weight, but they are now meeting in a handicap. 

Tiger Roll carries four pounds more than the younger horse and so is unlikely to reverse the form. The Gigginstown House Stud-owned gelding had a warm-up race on the Flat at Navan last month and wasn’t disgraced despite losing several lengths coming out of the stalls. 

Gigginstown is the racing arm of Michael O’Leary, who is the founder and CEO of the budget airline Ryanair. Business usually comes before sentiment, but surely the Irishman would love to own the first horse to win three Nationals in a row. Even so, it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that a poor run at Cheltenham this week sees the horse retired.

However, a more probable outcome is a decent run in defeat which keeps all options open. Tiger Roll won the cross country race at Cheltenham in his two Grand National winning seasons. Wins at four festivals is a Hall of Fame effort, but winning the National in 2021 would make Tiger Roll arguably the most famous horse in the history of the sport. 

The potential scenarios for Easysland are not so emotive. A clear-cut defeat of Tiger Roll on Friday puts the Cheltenham Festival cross country race at the top of the agenda, and the horse looks difficult to beat at the weights compared to Tiger Roll. Receiving weight from the 10-year-old is a huge positive. 

The betting suggests a two-horse race, but Potters Corner could get in the mix. Despite winning the Welsh National last December and the Midlands version the previous March, the horse’s most famous run was probably in a virtual race. 

Potters Corner won the Grand National animation this year. Obviously, that run is irrelevant as a form guide for future races. However, the computer generated race pinpointed Potters Corner’s stamina and jumping ability. The horse looks booked for third place against stiff opposition.

The other six runners are racing out of the handicap, so they carry more weight than the form justifies. For both Easysland and Tiger Roll, all roads could lead back to Cheltenham and/or Aintree in the spring.

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