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The Cross Country Chase is the most unique race at the Cheltenham Festival thanks to a slew of varied obstacles and it being a right old slog around Prestbury Park.
Tiger Roll dominated the race before heading to Aintree to win the Grand National in 2018 and 2019 but suffered a 17-length defeat to Easysland in last year’s renewal.
2021 will see the two horses go head-to-head once again and it’s the French stayer that leads Paddy Power’s betting market.
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Tiger Roll out of form
Tiger Roll has had a challenging season to date, finishing sixth out of nine on his reappearance at Navan last October before being pulled up in the Cross Country Handicap Chase at Cheltenham’s November Meeting. His annual spin in the Boyne Hurdle at Navan was further cause for concern as he came home last of the six runners.
Jockey Keith Donoghue reported that the much-loved horse “hated the ground” that day and connections have emphatically insisted that it’s still all systems go for Cheltenham.
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However, the festival could be Tiger Roll’s final appearance after owner Michael O’Leary decided to withdraw his superstar chaser from April’s Grand National due to what he feels is an unfair handicapping.
The 11-year-old, who carried 10st3lbs and 11st5lbs during his previous two victories at Aintree, has been withdrawn at the forfeit stage because of an “unfair weight burden” of 11st9lbs.
Tiger Roll (OR 168)
Form – 52/6PU6
Speaking before the Grand National weights were announced, O’Leary said: “The options are we are possibly looking at retirement or we may look at an entry in the Irish Grand National, where I think he’d be more fairly weighted where his rating should be.
“The handicapper has unfairly weighted Tiger Roll for the last two years in the UK. He’s rated around 170 there and last won the Grand National off 159, and he’s run four times since and not finished in the frame.
“He was beaten by Easysland at Cheltenham last year by 17 lengths off level weights – he is now rated 167 and yet somehow Tiger Roll is rated higher than he is.
“He’s getting older and may not even run again after Cheltenham. His last couple of runs have suggested he’s not in love with the game any more and the priority at this time is minding Tiger Roll. He’s a small horse, we’re not going to ask him to lump huge amounts of weight around Aintree.”
Cheltenham Festival: Dates, race times and antepost tips from our experts
Easysland the favourite
A Cross Country specialist in France, Easysland won on his debut in the United Kingdom in December 2019 at Cheltenham before following up at last year’s Festival with a 17-length beating of Tiger Roll. It was a thrilling run that set tongues wagging at Prestbury Park.
But the seven-year-old could only manage fourth in the Cross Country Chase at Cheltenham’s November Meeting, finishing nine lengths behind Kingswell Theatre.
Easysland (OR 167)
Form – 11111/4
Trainer David Cottin played down any concerns about Easysland’s seasonal reappearance. Speaking last month, he said: “Easysland is in good form before the Festival. I’m very happy with him and he’ll go there fit and ready.”
Cottin was also set to run Easysland’s stablemate Ajas in the Cross Country Chase, with one eye on the race as preparation for a tilt at the Grand National following the path set by Tiger Roll, but the one-time second-favourite will not feature due to the fact that Swedish-based owner Ulf Sjoberg cannot attend.
OUR EXPERTS’ VIEWS
Ruby Walsh: “EASYSLAND has only had one run this season at Cheltenham back in November when he was no match for Kingswell Theatre in a handicap, but he had 11st 8lb and Kingswell Theatre was carrying 10st. They’ll re-oppose on level weights so there’s a huge swing and Easysland is the one to beat.”
Mick Fitzgerald: “Tiger Roll was very ordinary here last season in soft ground and hasn’t shown the same sort of zip or sparkle recently that we’re used to seeing from the two-time Grand National winner. He’s not getting any younger and is in the twilight of his career, so I’ll swerve him and stick with last year’s winner EASYSLAND.”
Frank Hickey: “Tiger Roll has looked a shadow of himself this season, while Easysland will romp home here if replicating the performance he produced when winning this race last year. He was a little disappointing here last November, even allowing for the fact he was conceding plenty of weight.
“The one that looks worth taking an each-way chance on is HOGAN’S HEIGHT for Jamie Snowden. It is a difficult ask for a horse to be successful on their debut at this discipline, but Snowden did train Fact Of The Matter to finish a close second to Josies Orders on his debut over the banks and that horse followed up by winning his second start.”
Gina Bryce: “If French raider EASYSLAND turns up in the same form as last year the rest of the field may as well start now! That said this season has seen him run only once when disappointing on better ground over these fences in November with his usual slick jumping was his weakness on the day.”
Matt Chapman: “A real marathon here with the Cross Country Chase over 3m6f. The Cottin stable is not in good form, but EASYSLAND was being talked about as a Gold Cup horse this time last year and his comeback run here was far from disgraceful.”
WHEN IS THE CROSS COUNTRY CHASE?
The Cross Country Chase is the fifth race on the second day of the Cheltenham Festival 2021. The runners and riders are scheduled to set off at 15.40.
CROSS COUNTRY CHASE WINNERS AT THE LAST FIVE FESTIVALS
2020 – Easysland (Horse), Jonathan Plouganou (Jockey), David Cottin (Trainer)
2019 – Tiger Roll, Keith Donoghue, Gordon Elliott
2018 – Tiger Roll, Keith Donoghue, Gordon Elliott
2017 – Cause of Causes, Jamie Codd, Gordon Elliott
2016 – Josies Orders, Nina Carberry, Enda Bolger
CHELTENHAM FESTIVAL DAY TWO SCHEDULE
13:20 – Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 1) 2m 5f
13.55 – Festival Novices’ Chase (Grade 1) 3m 80y
14.30 – Coral Cup (Grade 3) 2m 5f
15.05 – Queen Mother Champion Chase (Grade 1) 1m 7f 199y
15.40 – Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase 3m 6f 37y
16.15 – Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Handicap Chase (Grade 3) 2m 62y
16.50 – Weatherbys Champion Bumper (Grade 1) 2m 87y
CHELTENHAM FESTIVAL‘S BIG RACES
March 17 – 13.20 – Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle latest odds and tips
March 17 – 13.55 – Festival Novices’ Chase latest odds and tips
March 17 – 15.05 – Queen Mother Champion Chase latest odds and tips
March 18 – 13.20 – Marsh Novices’ Chase latest odds and tips
March 18 – 14.30 – Ryanair Chase latest odds and tips
March 18 – 15.05 – Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle latest odds and tips
March 19 – 13.20 – Triumph Hurdle latest odds and tips
March 19 – 14.30 – Albert Bartlett Novices’ Chase latest odds and tips
March 19 – 15.05 – Gold Cup latest odds and tips
March 19 – 16.15 – Mrs Paddy Power Mares’ Chase latest odds and tips
*Paddy will be all over your telly box throughout the Cheltenham Festival sponsoring ITV’s live coverage from Prestbury Park – and you can get free and exclusive tipping columns EVERY DAY from Ruby Walsh, Matt Chapman and Mick Fitzgerald here on PP News.
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