Heading towards the two main events in the annual National Hunt calendar, excitement surrounds the most famous names in racing that look set to compete at both the Cheltenham Festival in March and the Grand National in April.
Although the Cheltenham Gold Cup was often seen as a warm-up to the Grand National, these two races have increasingly shared a more evenly balanced level of prestige in British horse racing over the last couple of decades. However, not all horses are tested in the Gold Cup before heading to the Grand National, with some put through their paces in other races during the four-day National Hunt celebration of National Hunt racing at the Cheltenham Festival.
Following the announcement of 105 entries for the Aintree race, let’s take a look at some of the key Grand National competitors who will also be racing at the Cheltenham Festival this year, along with which races they’ll be running and their chances of faring well at both events.
Riding The Tiger Roll Hype Train
After winning the Grand National twice in a row at Aintree over the last two years, Tiger Roll has already entered the realms of legend. Although this magnificent bay has never actually raced in the Gold Cup, nor been entered for that race. Instead, the Gigginstown House Stud and trainer Gordon Elliott have always preferred to race the hugely popular “People’s Horse” in other races at the Cheltenham Festival.
For the last two years ahead of winning the Grand National, triumphant runs in the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase have provided ideal preparation. Given the same approach is being taken again this year, inevitably, Tiger Roll is featuring highly amongst the Cheltenham betting tips for a third consecutive Cross Country victory in March on the second day of the Festival, ahead of aiming for an unprecedented third straight Grand National win at Aintree.
Nevertheless, while Tiger Roll is guaranteed to race at the Cheltenham festival this year, and despite being amongst the initial entries for the Grand National, there is still some serious discussion regarding whether the reigning champion will be amongst the final 40 runners at Aintree. Ryanair boss and Gigginstown owner Michael O’Leary is apparently unhappy about ratings for the Grand National, believing his famous horse could be handicapped unfairly.
Essential listening! Gigginstown’s own Eddie O’Leary gives @boyciesbetting his reaction to the news that Tiger Roll will carry top weight in the Grand National should he run… pic.twitter.com/IWrJ0qCMHu
— At The Races (@AtTheRaces) February 11, 2020
Eddie O’Leary recently told The Irish Times that his brother is waiting on the British Horseracing Authorities. “They have one chance to treat the horse fairly,” he explained, concerned that ratings given by the BHA handicapper could put Tiger Roll at weight ‘compression’ disadvantage, in their opinion. Potentially, this could lead to them withdrawing Tiger Roll from the Grand National and retiring the champion horse after Cheltenham, although hopefully it won’t come to that.
Native River Aiming To Enter An Elusive Club
Having already finished third in 2017 and then won the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 2018, Native River has only raced at four other events after achieving the highlight of his career, which included placing fourth at the Gold Cup in 2019. The 10-year-old chestnut gelding will be going again in the 2020 Cheltenham Gold Cup and at good value outside odds as a potential winner, given his wealth of experience in previous races.
Interestingly, despite having raced at Aintree twice before, winning the Grand 1 Mildmay Novices’ Chase in 2016 and the Grade 2 Many Clouds Chase in 2019, this year will be the first time Native River has ever been entered for the Grand National. Trained by Colin Tizzard and ridden by Richard Johnson, they will be hoping that in 2020, their horse can become the first since L’Escargot in the 1970s to have won both the Cheltenham Gold Cup and the Grand National. That would be a truly rare and magnificent achievement.
Delta Work Showing Youthful Promise
Compared to the more experienced champion steeplechasers we’ve already looked at, this second entry for the Grand National is another from the successful Gigginstown House Stud, and just like Tiger Roll, seven-year-old Delta Work is also trained by Gordon Elliott. This fine horse has already won the 2020 Irish Gold Cup and will be participating in two feature races at the 2020 Cheltenham Festival.
The first will be during St Patrick’s Thursday and day three, running as an outside contender in the Ryanair Chase. The second will be on the Friday in the flagship Cheltenham Gold Cup, expecting to start at similar odds to the favourite, Al Boum Photo. While the latter won’t be competing at the Grand National, Delta Work has been entered and looks to be a marvellous prospect for the two most prestigious races in the British National Hunt calendar.