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Tiger Roll

You would never have said that Tiger Roll was a typical Grand National horse.  His stature, for starters, wouldn’t automatically lead you to believe that he would excel over four and a quarter miles and 30 daunting spruce fences.  And his breeding: by Derby winner Authorized out of an Entrepreneur mare who was placed over seven furlongs and won over a mile and a half.  You would have thought that Epsom in June would be more Tiger Roll’s thing than Aintree in April. 

But then, you never would have said that Red Rum was a typical Grand National horse either.

There are similarities between Red Rum and Tiger Roll.  Both were essentially bred for the flat.  History tells you that, on his racecourse debut, back in the days when they had flat racing at Aintree, Red Rum dead-heated in a five-furlong two-year-old contest there. 

Both horses could have made it on the flat.  Both smaller of stature than your typical Grand National horse, but both sharp of mind and nimble of foot.

Red Rum never fell in his life.  Ginger McCain’s horse ran in the Grand National five times, he won it three times, in 1973, 1974 and 1977, and he finished second twice, in 1975 and in 1976.  It’s an incredible record.  Ten Becher’s Brooks, 10 Canal Turns, five Chairs, 150 fences, no problems.  

Tiger Roll has never fallen and he has unseated just once, in a novices’ chase at Galway in 2016 when he was hampered at the second last fence.  

Red Rum had Aintree figured out.  Tommy Stack, who rode him to that historic third victory in 1977, frequently speaks about how he knew the place, how he lit up when he got back there every year.  About how adept he was at navigating his way around the track and negotiating the obstacles.

Tiger Roll was dynamite over the Aintree fences last year.  Davy Russell spoke about how clever he was, about how you could see him figuring the fences out, about how he quickly realised that he could skim the tops of the fences and not lose ground. 

It could have all ended at Becher’s Brook last year.  I Just Know fell in front of Tiger Roll, it looked ominous, there wasn’t much time to take evasive action or much space in which to do it, but Gordon Elliott’s horse just shimmied around him.  He stepped nimbly to his left, then back to his right.  He danced around his fallen rival in one seamless manoeuvre that allowed him maintain his position and his momentum without the need to break his stride.  

Davy Russell says that that move was down to the horse, not the rider.  That if the horse had just moved to his left, if he hadn’t gone back to his right, the rider probably would have been left sitting on thin air. 

That cleverness and that nimbleness are big arrows to have in your quiver at Aintree. 

Remarkably, Red Rum is the last horse to win back-to-back runnings of the historic race.  The Grand National has been run 44 times since Red Rum won his second, and many winners have gone back and gone close.  Corbiere went close, West Tip went close, Monty’s Pass went close, Don’t Push It went close.  

Hedgehunter and Comply Or Die went very close, but the fact remains that no Grand National winner since Red Rum in 1973 has gone back to Aintree the following year and won it again.  Tiger Roll will bid to join the Grand National legend on that pedestal when he lines up for the great race next Saturday.

“Tiger Roll is very well,” says Gordon Elliott.  “On form, it looks like he has improved since last year, and he’s in great order at home.  We’re very hopeful.  But it’s a Grand National.  Anything can happen.”

The Gigginstown House horse is going to have to be better than he was last year, because he is 9lb higher in the handicap this year.  That said, while he only got home by a fast-diminishing head from Pleasant Company in the 2018 renewal, he travelled like the most likely winner from a long way out, and you can easily argue that he may have won last year’s race with 9lb more on his back. 

Also, he put up one of the best performances of his career in winning the Grade 2 Boyne Hurdle at Navan in February over two miles and five furlongs, a distance that should have been far shorter than ideal.  And he was even more impressive in winning the Cross Country Chase under Keith Donoghue at this year’s Cheltenham Festival than he was in winning the Cross Country Chase at last year’s Cheltenham Festival.

“He’s an unbelievable horse,” says Elliott.  “To do what he has done.  To win at four Cheltenham Festivals and to win a Grand National.  He has achieved so much.” 

Gordon Elliott will have plenty of runners in next Saturday’s Randox Health Grand National.  He could have 10 or 11 or 12 runners in the 40-runner race.  He says that he would love to win it with any one of them.  If he does, he will notch up his third Grand National.  

No trainer has won the Grand National more than four times, so that record would be in sight.  You suspect, however, that, while another Grand National victory would be special for the trainer, victory for Tiger Roll would be extra special.

“It would be unbelievable if he could go back and win it again,” says Elliott.  “To win back-to-back Grand Nationals.  To be up there with Red Rum, a Grand National Legend.  That would be incredible.” 

It would be historic.

© 31st March 2019