Delta Work denies Tiger Roll a fairytale finish

Tiger Roll finishes second on the final start of his career at Cheltenham

Cheltenham has seen most things over the years but a favourite booed for winning was a new one on Wednesday.

The dual-Grand National hero Tiger Roll, a five-time festival winner, and perhaps the most popular horse in the sport, came so agonisingly close to a perfect career finale it felt like an injustice for him to be only runner up in the Glenfarclas Cross-Country Chase.

That it was his stable companion Delta Work, and in the same Gigginstown Stud colours of his owner, Ryanair boss, Michael O’Leary, who proved the spoilsport seemed to compound the inequity for some.

So as Delta Work, the 5-2 favourite, galloped past the post three quarters of a length clear of his veteran stable companion, emotion took over.


Booing from a sizable minority swept along the stands and was repeated as Delta Work and Jack Kennedy walked back in front of those stands. It was as startling as it was unfair on the winners but perhaps an apt twist in the Tiger Roll story.

If O’Leary’s stubborn stance on a nerdy point of handicapping prevented his little star trying to emulate the legendary Red Rum with a third National, it was his competitive and maybe even contrarian instincts that ultimately prevented a singular moment of turf history on Wednesday.

With no Delta Work there would have been a record-equalling sixth festival victory for Tiger Roll and a perfect send-off into the retirement sunset. As it was, O’Leary spoiled the perfect party himself. He even admitted to mixed feelings.

Before the race, and on the back of rain turning the ground heavy, he proclaimed Tiger Roll’s chance had gone, that anyone backing him needed their head examined, and he hoped he wouldn’t be pulled up. In the event, Tiger Roll looked a winner for so much of the race that his being led into a heaving winner’s enclosure alongside Delta Work afterwards didn’t feel so much a nod to emotion as just reward.

“I really would have loved to see Tiger go out on a win. It’s hard not to be disappointed. You’re a winner at Cheltenham and I’m disappointed,” O’Leary said. “It’s just a magical fairytale on ground that doesn’t suit him. He’s gone out on his shield. He’s a warrior and that’s a Gold Cup horse that has beat him and only just on ground he wouldn’t like.

“I’m actually upset - I would have loved to see him win it. If I could have controlled it, I would have roared at Jack (Kennedy) to finish second on Delta. But you have to roll so many at the dartboard here and hope that something will stick.”

Gordon Elliott felt it was the monsoon conditions that ultimately prevented the fairytale although in Delta Work he looks to have already unearthed a readymade replacement for the Cross-Country - and maybe even the National too.

“Of course I wanted the Tiger to win but once I’d won the race I didn’t mind as it was for Gigginstown who are massive supporters,” said Elliott who’d earlier saddled his first winner of the week with O’Leary’s 50-1 shot, Commander Of Fleet, in the Coral Cup.

If Elliott and O’Leary are used to the spotlight it was a new experience for one man on Wednesday.

Rather like referees, it isn’t good news for a clerk of the course to be centre-stage but that’s the position Cheltenham’s new boss Jon Pullin found himself in on Day 2 of his first festival in charge. Having applied a precautionary 5mms of watering overnight, Sods Law dictated that it bucketed on Wednesday and ground conditions turned ultra-testing.

Ground originally forecast to be good and good to soft in places was “heavy” by the middle of the card and worsened to the extent the bumper was delayed while the track was reconfigured.

Paul Nicholls pulled out his big hope Bravemansgame from the Brown Advisory Novice Chase and didn't hold back. Asked on ITV if he understood the decision to water, he bluntly replied: "No, not at all. From Sunday on the forecast it was going to be a very wet day today and why water when you've got a wet day forecast?

“It’s a hard job and I wouldn’t want to be clerk of the course, but as form Sunday it was always going to be a wet day today.”

Nicky Henderson blamed the "extreme ground" for his odds-on favourite Shishkin being pulled up in the Champion Chase but struck a more conciliatory tone.

“Yes, he put some water on because the boys felt last night coming down the hill (getting faster) which is a dangerous place to be getting quick. If they’re saying that you have to act accordingly. The forecast didn’t predict what we had. I’m not shouting and screaming. They’ve done their best. There’s no point crying about it,” he said.

It was advice some found tough to follow in the circumstances.


1 Sir Gerhard (P Townend) 8-11 Fav

2 Three Stripe Life (D N Russell) 8-1

3 Whatdeawant (D E Mullins) 18-1


1 L’Homme Presse (Charlie Deutsch) 9-4 Fav

2 Ahoy Senor (D R Fox) 4-1

3 Gaillard Du Mesnil (P Townend) 11-1


1 Commander Of Fleet (Shane Fitzgerald) 50-1

2 Fastorslow (D J O’Keeffe) 18-1

3 Ashdale Bob (J B Foley) 14-1

4 Camprond (Aidan Coleman) 10-1


1 Energumene (P Townend) 5-2

2 Funambule Sivola (Charlie Deutsch) 40-1

3 Envoi Allen (Rachael Blackmore) 10-1


1 Delta Work (J W Kennedy) 5-2 Fav

2 Tiger Roll (D N Russell) 3-1

3 Plan Of Attack (D J O’Keeffe) 25-1


1 Global Citizen (Kielan Woods) 28-1

2 Andy Dufresne (M P Walsh) 10-3 Fav

3 Frero Banbou (Charlie Deutsch) 6-1

4 Editeur Du Gite (Joshua Moore) 15-2


1 Facile Vega (Mr P W Mullins) 15-8 Fav

2 American Mike (Mr J J Codd) 5-2

3 James’s Gate (S F O’Keeffe) 16-1

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor is the racing correspondent of The Irish Times. He also writes the Tipping Point column