It’s just four weeks to Cheltenham but Tuesday contains an overwhelming ‘National’ theme with Gordon Elliott promising to be a central figure.
The leading trainer will hope his seven runners get to line up for Punchestown’s rescheduled €100,000 Boylesports Grand National Trial in the afternoon, subject to an 8am inspection on Tuesday morning. A course spokesman has admitted it could be “marginal” if the programme cancelled on Sunday gets a green light now.
“It’s perfectly raceable at the moment but there’s a degree of uncertainty about the forecast and it’s very unsettled. We’ll see what the night brings and review it in the morning. If we can run it we will,” said Punchestown’s Richie Galway.
“There are variables we need to keep an eye on. Snow could be an issue and wind could be an issue. It’s marginal. If we get any luck I think we will be able to race,” he added on Monday.
At lunchtime the shape of April’s Randox Aintree Grand National will be outlined when weights for the world’s most famous steeplechase are revealed before invited guests in Liverpool city centre.
It means the racing world will be hanging on the weight allotted by the British Horseracing Authority handicapper Martin Greenwood to Elliott’s National hero Tiger Roll.
The general 5-1 ante-post favourite has an historic Aintree hat-trick in his sights although whether racing can tee up perhaps it’s biggest story in almost half a century will be decided by Tiger Roll’s owner Michael O’Leary.
The Ryanair boss has threatened to not run Tiger Roll in the 173rd National if he is unhappy with the compressed weight allotted to the horse by Greenwood.
Aintree’s historic highlight is the only race for which the BHA handicapper is able to deviate from official ratings in allotting weights. Over the last four years the National topweight has had their weight compressed by an average of 2.5lbs.
O’Leary’s Gigginstown Stud team have said they have an acceptable figure in mind in order allow Tiger Roll take his chance in April although they have refused to divulge it. Instead they have repeatedly insisted the horse won’t go back to Aintree if he’s not “given a chance.”
Since Greenwood also has to be seen to be fair in his calculations to all 105 National entries it puts the BHA official in a rare dilemma which ensures the eyes of the racing world will be on St George’s Hall at lunchtime.
There are 45 Irish trained horses left in the race with Elliott responsible for 18 of them. On the back of Tiger Roll’s back-to-back wins, and Silver Birch’s 2007 success, Elliott could join Red Rum’s trainer Ginger McCain, and Fred Rimell, with a record-equalling fourth victory in April.
Tiger Roll is set to return to action in this Sunday’s Boyne Hurdle at Navan ahead of a tilt at a fifth Cheltenham festival success in the Cross-Country Chase next month. Whether that proves to his career swansong, or he gets a shot at racing history in the National, may be dictated by the outcome of Greenwood’s calculations on Tuesday.
Nevertheless, Elliott is planning on the basis Tiger Roll is going back to Liverpool and has given an upbeat bulletin on the hugely popular 10-year old whose campaign was disrupted by an operation for a chipped bone.
“He had his little setback but he’s back now and Keith Donoghue who rides him every day is very happy with him,” he said. “I’d suppose fitness is the one worry from Navan. We know ourselves there’s a lot of improvement to come.
“Cheltenham – obviously the race looks made for him with a rating like he has. Then to go back and have another whack at the English Grand National will be second to none. Win lose or draw just the hype of getting him back there for the day will be something else so it’s one we’re really looking forward to.
“I hope I’ve got plenty more years left in my training career and something else will come along. To come across a horse like Tiger Roll at a relatively early stage in my career is something else and to get him back there for a third year would be brilliant.
“He’s a people’s horse now. People like to see him and it’ll be great for everyone in Navan to get him there,” Elliott added.
The Co Meath trainer’s other Aintree entries include Roaring Bull, General Principle, Out Sam and Prince Of Scars who are all declared for Tuesday’s National Trial. Elliott has added two more runners to the five runners he originally had for the marathon contest which he has won for the last two years.
Topweight Pleasant Company, so narrowly beaten by Tiger Roll in the 2018 Aintree National, tops the weights on Tuesday. He is one of three runners for Willie Mullins.
Half a dozen are still in the Listed novice hurdle including Cedarwood Road who won impressively at Leopardstown over Christmas. He finished behind Front View in a Punchestown bumper last Spring and the pair clash again here.
Front View chased home Envoi Allen at Down Royal in November and followed that up with a defeat of Uhtred at Cork, all of which looks smart form.
Ferny Hollow is on course to try and make it third time lucky in the bumper. The expensive purchase is set to wear a first time hood.