Tiger Roll returns to Aintree in Betway Bowl

Randox Grand National Festival at Aintree begins on Thursday, with the first of seven races underway at 1.45pm; two-time National winner Tiger Roll features in third race of the day, the Betway Bowl Chase (2.50pm); 2018 Gold Cup winner Native River also among nine runners

Tiger Roll ridden by Keith Donoghue
Image: Tiger Roll, ridden by Keith Donoghue - Jack Kennedy will be aboard the two-time National winner for Thursday's Betway Bowl

Tiger Roll returns to Aintree on Thursday - two days earlier than many would initially have expected.

Much has been written and said about the decision of owners Gigginstown House Stud to miss Saturday's Randox Grand National with their equine great - but he certainly adds a layer of intrigue to the Betway Bowl.

Gigginstown's gripe with the handicapper was the fact that the dual Grand National winner had the rating of a Grade One horse - and he is about to get the chance to prove who is right.

Tiger Roll is in the care of Denise Foster, and the current incumbent at Cullentra House Stables said: "He's 11 years old, and it will be a big ask for him. Really we're just hoping for a nice run from him.

"We can't be too confident - I am wary of the fact that he is 11. That's really all you can say about him.

"He left here in good form, and we'll just have to see what happens. It's all a bit of a question mark."

With Davy Russell still sidelined by injury, Jack Kennedy comes in for the mount.

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Another popular 11-year-old is lining up in opposition, in the shape of Colin Tizzard's 2018 Gold Cup winner Native River.

Johnson struck up a great partnership with the Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Native River
Image: Native River will be ridden by Jonjo O'Neill jnr in the Betway Bowl

He does so, though, without the aid of his old ally Richard Johnson - who retired on Saturday. The four-time champion jumps jockey has been replaced by Jonjo O'Neill jnr, who won the Denman Chase on Tizzard's stable star last season.

Native River finished fourth, best of the British, in the Gold Cup last month.

"It's strange going into a race without Richard - but Jonjo has won on him, so that helps a bit," said owner Garth Broom.

"We had been dithering a bit about the ground - and while it won't be ideal, hopefully it will be safe, and on Thursday's it's likely to be at its softest.

"It's quite an open race. On faster ground, we wouldn't have run. He can handle good ground - he won the Denman on it a couple of years ago when unfortunately he picked up a suspensory problem. The thing about the soft ground is that it slows the others down, while he just goes the same speed.

"We're hoping for a good run from him. He was a bit tired for a week after the Gold Cup - but he's recovered now, and they say he's as good as ever, so we'll hope for the best.

"He's never been over-raced. This will be just his fourth run of the season, and he's got a good record at the Mildmay Course.

"He's never been over-raced, this will be just his fourth run of the season and he's got a good record at the Mildmay Course."

It seemed hard work for Native River at Cheltenham. A habitual front-runner usually, he could never get to the front at any stage.

"At Cheltenham, the last twice he has run in the Gold Cup he hasn't gone with his usual enthusiasm," added Broome.

"I'm wondering if he's remembering the hard race he had there when he won it.

"The main thing is that he comes back safe. I think we should get one more year out of him - but the first time he shows he's not enjoying it, we'll be thinking of retirement."

Paul Nicholls skipped the Gold Cup with dual King George winner Clan Des Obeaux, in preference for this race, but he has been fitted with first-time cheekpieces after he surprisingly failed to beat stablemate Secret Investor at Newbury.

"He ran very well last time at Newbury when just failing to give 6lb to Secret Investor, who picked up an injury and may not run again until Christmas," Nicholls told Betfair.

"We felt after Newbury that fitting cheekpieces might help Clan's concentration, and they seemed to sharpen him up when he worked in them on Saturday.

"He's in good shape, and if the cheekpieces do the trick then he has an obvious chance."

Nicholls also runs Real Steel, not seen since pulling up in the King George.

"He hasn't been the easiest to train but was showing something last time when he travelled well in the King George on Boxing Day until stopping quickly turning into the straight," said Nicholls.

"It transpired he had bled, so this is a bit of a recovery mission, but we've freshened him up and are hoping for better from him."

Clondaw Castle steps up in grade for Tom George, having won a Kempton handicap last time - which his trainer previously used as a springboard to success here for Nacarat.

"He steps up into Grade One company for the first time. He's had a good season - he's up to a mark of 160," said George.

"I think he's ready for the next step. He's improved again for the step up in distance.

"He won the old Racing Post Chase at Kempton off a big weight - the same we did with Nacarat 10 years ago. Let's hope we can follow in his footsteps."

Nicky Henderson also steps Mister Fisher up in trip. He was in the process of running a good race in the Ryanair, but two bad mistakes eventually meant he was pulled up.

"It is rather unfair that he comes here off the back of the formbook saying he was pulled up in the Ryanair - he ran a really good race," said Henderson.

"Coming down the hill Allaho and Min were going flat to the boards, and Mister Fisher was literally on their tails and looked like finishing third, but he'd been flat out for a long way and did get tired. Nico (de Boinville) quite rightly looked after him.

"If he stays three miles, which I'll be disappointed if he doesn't, it will tell us where we're going next season."

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