Author: Howard Wright
Two saturdays, two world class sporting events held 3,500 miles apart featuring horse racing, where anyone who was privileged to attend both, as well as millions of people around the world, were exposed to the simple truth that the horse comes first in this particular exercise. In one, Thunder Snow won the Dubai World Cup at Meydan, the richest race in the international calendar. In the other, Tiger Roll won the Grand National at Aintree, the world’s most famous steeplecase. The events themselves might seem to be incompatible, with one run on dirt on the Flat and the other staged over fearsome obstacles on turf, but they bear close comparison.
In the first instance, they attract massive audiences to their respective racecourses, comprising an eclectic mix of regular attendees at horse racing events and those for whom it is a special day out to be enjoyed perhaps no more than once a year. Meydan’s corporate team has made huge efforts in recent years to bring in the crowds, stressing the whole social and dining experience, but Dubai World Cup night and, to a lesser degree, Super Saturday remain the biggest draws. Aintree, too, has put added resources into attracting support for the five days’ racing outside the three afternoons of the Grand National festival, and has been successful, but the big event remains just that, even if in itself its attraction has grown enormously over the last two decades.
Away from the racecourse, media interest in the two events is massive, as evidenced by the figures related by Racecourse Media Group, the UK based company responsible for distributing live and recorded coverage of both. More than 40 broadcasters were lined up to take the Dubai World Cup fixture to every continent outside Antarctica, no matter the time zone, including viewers in Bulgaria, who were able to watch a two hour recording for the first time.
A special live programme was available on cruise ships and to airlines, including the title race sponsor Emirates, while magazine programmes including the major races were due to be aired by Eurosport, Trans World Sport and CNN. The Grand National enjoyed similar worldwide coverage, with the distribution company claiming a reach covering 16 time zones and including delivery to 20,000 British troops serving overseas as well as a clutch of Royal Navy ships at sea. Anyone anywhere should have been able to watch both races either live or within a short time of the race, and they will have seen two winners who, even allowing for the disparate nature of the races, achieved comparable status.
Thunder Snow, trained to the minute by Saeed bin Suroor and ridden to perfection by Christophe Soumillon, became the first horse ever to win consecutive Dubai World Cups, an amazing achievement whose stature is obvious from the fact that it took 24 years to be accomplished. The international handicappers, revising their ratings for horses that ran between 1 January and World Cup night, have decided that Thunder Snow did not run up to his best this year. They clipped his official rating by a point to 121, while raising his narrow victim Gronkowski by nine points to 120. Neither fact will unduly concern those who watched their epic battle to the line.
Tiger Roll, one of 11 runners trained in Ireland by Gordon Elliott from the 40 that set out for the Grand National and ridden by the veteran Davy Russell, became the first horse to win consecutive Grand Nationals since the incomparable Red Rum in 1974. In terms of longevity, the stature of this achievement beats even that of Thunder Snow, since none of the jockeys and a few of the trainers who took part at Aintree were born when Red Rum completed his double 45 years ago. Curiously, and in one of those quirks of fate that only become noteworthy after an event, bringing off consecutive successes in extremely difficult races to win is not the only common ground between Thunder Snow and Tiger Roll.
Both were bred in Ireland, and not so many years ago they shared ownership. And their owner was none other than Sheikh Mohammed’s Godolphin. Thunder Snow, who was bred by Sheikh Mohammed’s Darley operation, is a halfbrother to Ihtimal, winner of the UAE 1000 Guineas and Oaks, out of a half-sister to the French Oaks winner West Wind, both of whom were trained by Bin Suroor. Thunder Snow remains a full horse and flag bearer for the Blue team. On the other hand, Tiger Roll never actually carried the famous silks and has pursued a very different path to fame. The son of Authorized was bought for Godolphin by John Ferguson for 70,000gns as a foal in November 2010, was gelded in December of his unproductive 2yo season, and returned just £10,000 towards his purchase price and keep when sold at the Doncaster August Sales in 2013, unraced and apparently unwanted, except by Devon trainer Nigel Hawke.
Explaining the reason for his enterprise, Hawke said: “I like buying from Godolphin as there are a lot of well bred, nice horses who come from that area. Tiger Roll ticked all the boxes. He was well bred and correct, although not the biggest in the world. The plan was to bring him along to run well in a mile and a half bumper and sell him on.” In the event, less than three months later, Tiger Roll made his debut in a 3yo hurdle at Market Rasen and won, and a month after that he went up to a special sale at Cheltenham and was sold for £80,000. His buyer was the Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary and his brother Eddie of Gigginstown House Stud, and the rest, as they say, is history.
By the nature of where they have pursued their careers, earnings are hugely skewed in Thunder Snow’s favour. He outstrips Tiger Roll by £12,577,312 to £1,367,282, but the joy they have given their owners is probably on a par, while the pleasure they have provided for the racing public cannot be counted in cash.