Watch a full replay of the Grade Two Ladbrokes Boyne Hurdle plus Gary O'Brien's interview with a contented Gordon Elliott
Any fears that Tiger Roll’s powers might have have been blunted by minor leg surgery were dispelled on Sunday when the dual Grand National winner finished a hugely promising fifth behind stablemate Cracking Smart in the Ladbrokes Boyne Hurdle at Navan.
Trainer Gordon Elliott has said beforehand that he would be satisfied if his stable star could “beat one or two” on his belated return in the 2m5f feature as he had only resumed cantering at the start of last month after an operation to have a small chip in a joint removed in mid-November.
However, he travelled sweetly uner Keith O'Donoghue after a couple of deliberate early jumps and his bulging fan club were entertaining thoughts of him defying marked market weakness in the home straight as he loomed into the picture, much as he had when a surprise winner of the race 12 months earlier.
The ten-year-old got a little weary on from two out, understandably given his lack of work, the heavy ground and wild weather conditions, and he lost fourth place near the line. He was beaten an aggregate of 14 lengths.
Watch a full replay of the Boyne Hurdle
"I'm absolutely thrilled with Tiger Roll - Keith (Donoghue) said he cantered to the second-last and just said he blew up. I couldn't be happier," Elliott said.
"The way he travelled into the race, you'd have to be happy. He thought he was going to win at the second-last, but he had a blow then and rode him hands and heels to the line.
"I told Keith to follow them around and if you beat one or two home, I'd be thrilled. I thought there were a lot of plusses to be taken out of the race and once he is OK in the morning, it will be all systems go for Cheltenham and all being well the Randox Health Grand National.
"He said he pulled the arms out of him the whole way and we can look forward to the cross-country race (at Cheltenham) now.
"We're thrilled and once he is all right in the morning it will be all systems go for Cheltenham and all being well the Randox Health Grand National.
Elliott was "absolutely thrilled" with Tiger Roll
Elliott added that Tiger Roll would probably travel over to Cheltenham in the next week to ten days to have a spin around the Cross-Country fences before attempting to win the Cross-Country Chase for the third successive year.
Last year, he won that contest by 22 lengths – in the process recording his fourth triumph at the Festival. He is a general 6-4 to win it again.
"He'll go to Cheltenham next week or the week after to have a pop around. We'll take a lead horse with him and he'll also have another racecourse gallop and that'll be him," Elliott said.
"It's great to see the crowd here today, even with the bad weather. It was more than we expected and the run couldn't have been better."
Last week, Tiger Roll was allotted top weight of 11st 10lb to win a third Grand National. The general 5-1 favourite has been given him the green light to try and emulate the legendary Red Rum, the only previous three-time winner of the race.
_Davy Russell took the spoils on Cracking Smart _
Of Cracking Smart, he said: "He was a very good horse, but lost his way. He is getting overshadowed by Tiger Roll, but it is nice to win these races.
"He is entered in some of the handicaps at Cheltenham and maybe the softer ground could be the key to him."
Winning rider Davy Russell - who will be back aboard Tiger Roll when they get to Aintree - said: "To be fair, Gordon said he had him (Cracking Smart) in tip-top shape and he felt very good the whole way through the race.
"He was very talented as a novice and he didn't reach the heights, which we were all bemused by."
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