Things We Learned » Tiger feat

Tiger feat

It was all about Tiger Roll.  He went beyond the racing pages last year, as all Grand National winners do.  He went beyond the sports pages.  This year he has gone further. 

Tiger Roll is a little ball of extraordinary.  You’d never look at him and say, yeah, Grand National horse.  You’d hardly even say that he’s a typical steeplechaser.  He’s barely 16hh.  It’s his athleticism that defines him, his nimbleness over his obstacles.  That, and his intellect.

Listen to the people who are closest to him talk about him.  Gordon Elliott and Davy Russell and Keith Donoghue and Louise Magee.  They talk about his ability and his athleticism and his size.  They talk about his willingness, how he just wants to please.  But they also talk about how clever he is, thinking about things, figuring out the obstacles.  It is not a coincidence that he has never fallen in his life.

It was some achievement by Gordon Elliott and his team, to get Tiger Roll back to Aintree in even better form than he was in last year.  He was even more impressive in winning the Grand National this year, under a greater burden, both in terms of actual weight and in terms of expectation, off a higher handicap rating.  On Saturday, in his 35th race, under another masterful Davy Russell ride, the Gigginstown House horse probably put up the best performance of his life.

It’s brilliant for Gordon Elliott, that’s three Grand National winners now, in sight of four – no trainer has trained more than four Grand National winners – and for Gigginstown House, who have also had three Grand National winners, three of the last four.  

And for Davy Russell.  

Davy Russell rode in the Grand National for the first time in 2003 – Ballinclay King, pulled up at the 15th fence – and he has ridden in every renewal except two since.  In 2016 he finished eighth on Morning Assembly.  In 2017 he finished third on Saint Are and he thought, maybe a Grand National isn’t as far away as it looks.  

Even so, when he lined up in last year’s race on Tiger Roll, he was zero for 13.  Now he is two for 15.  He is two for the last two. 

In racing, in sport, you have to take the time to celebrate the achievements.  There is a danger of getting caught up in the what’s-next.  You need to take a moment. 

Tiger Roll deserves to be celebrated for the remarkable racehorse that he is.  He is a Triumph Hurdle winner, a Munster National winner, a National Hunt Chase winner and a dual Cross Country Chase winner.  He has been to the Cheltenham Festival four times, and he has won four times. 

More importantly, he is now up there with Red Rum, the first horse since that Grand National legend to win two in a row.  He is a bit of a Grand National legend himself.

When the dust settles 

When the dust settles, you can think next year. 

There is a riverful of water to flow under the bridge in the next 12 months.  There are lots of variables.  Primarily, Tiger Roll has to be fit and well and set to go again in 12 months’ time.  We know that Gordon Elliott is a bit of an expert in that regard, but we also know that racehorses are fragile and unpredictable beings.

Also, connections have to decide that they are willing to allow him take his chance.  Michael O’Leary was characteristically reticent on Sunday.  But things change.  (See above re: riverful of water.) 

It would be quite extraordinary if Tiger Roll could win three in a row.  Red Rum has won three, but not in a row.  Red Rum is the only horse who has won three, and no horse has won three in a row.

The preamble would run be deep and wide.  Tiger Roll’s bid for a third Grand National in a row.  The talk would spill out over the boundaries of racing’s cocoon for sure. The wider world would surely take a huge interest. 

It would be a big ask, but Tiger Roll could do it too.  The British handicapper has given him a rating of 172 after his heroics on Saturday.  That’s 13lb more than the mark off which he won on Saturday, and that is obviously a significantly higher mark.  And he would be a year older next year obviously.  He would be 10, not nine. 

However, five of the last 10 Grand National winners were 10 or 11, and Tiger Roll won with lots in hand on Saturday.  He only won by two and three-quarter lengths in the end, but it appeared that he had lots more in hand than that.  Would he have won off a rating that was 13lb higher?  If he had had 5lb more to carry and all his rivals had had 8lb less?  Of course, it’s impossible to know, but you can argue that he would have. 

That’s important too.  No matter how high his rating, the maximum weight than any horse can carry in the Grand National these days is 11st 10lb.  That’s only 5lb more than Tiger Roll carried on Saturday.  He is a small horse, and every pound at the higher end of the handicap probably counts for more for him than every pound at the lower end, but it is not an insurmountable burden.  Many Clouds won the Grand National under 11st 9lb in 2015.  Neptune Collonges won it under 11st 6lb in 2012.  

And the handicapper usually squeezes the weights at the top end of the Grand National handicap.  Tiger Roll could end up racing off a mark of 169 or 168.  And if a Gold Cup-type horse were to line up next year, he might not even have top weight.  Bristol De Mai is rated 171, Native River is rated 168.  Both are surely potential Grand National contenders for next season and either could be rated even higher by the time the framing of the Grand National weights happens upon us next February. 

It would be a shot at history.

National horses to note 

There were other horses to take out of this year’s Grand National with next year in mind. 

Magic Of Light was obviously one.  Jessica Harrington’s mare ran some race and Paddy Kennedy gave her some ride on his Grand National debut.  She was keen for much of the race, and she landed on top of The Chair, but she was still there with a chance before Tiger Roll loomed at the final fence, where she made a mistake.

She will probably be higher in the handicap next year, but she is only eight and it would be surprising if her trainer did not train her with the Grand National as her main objective next season. 

Walk In The Mill is another.  Robert Walford’s horse kept on well under James Best to take fourth place on ground that probably would have been faster than ideal for him.  He will be 10 next year, still young enough to be a contender and, if it happened to come up on the soft side, that would enhance his chance. 

And Jury Duty.  Gordon Elliott’s horse was hampered at the first fence, and Robbie Power had just manoeuvred him back into a nice position, not far off the pace and travelling well, when he got in tight to the big ditch, the usual third fence on the final circuit, gave his rider no chance.  He is another young horse, he is only eight and, all things being equal, he could be a contender again next year. 

Pleasant Company was running a big race again when he parted company with his rider at the fourth last.  Willie Mullins’ horse will be 12 next year, as will his stable companion Rathvinden, who ran a big race to finish third.   It won’t be easy, but it’s not impossible.

Another stable companion, Livelovelaugh, was running a big race until his stamina started to ebb on the run around the home turn.  He ran much better than his finishing position in 11th place suggests.   This was just his eighth chase and, all things being equal, a horse whose best form is over two and a half miles, he could be a horse for the Topham Chase next year. 

Ahead of the handicapper

There were nine horses who were ahead of the handicapper in this year’s Randox Health Grand National.  There were nine horses who, if the handicapper had had the chance to re-assess them on the day of the race, would have had more weight to carry than the weight that they actually carried.  That’s almost a quarter of the field.

It’s just another peculiarity of the Grand National, a race for which the weights are published and set in stone – no penalties for subsequent winners, no facility to re-assess – almost two months before the race.

Irish riders 

Four riders rode more than one winner at this year’s Aintree Grand National meeting, and all four were Irish-born and Ireland-based.

Jack Kennedy rode two winners, Three Musketeers and Felix Desjy, from just seven rides.  Davy Russell rode two winners from just three rides.  Ornua and Tiger Roll.  Just three rides at the meeting, and he comes home with a Grade 1 Maghull Chase and a Grand National. 

Ruby Walsh rode two winners, a second, a third and a fourth from just six rides.  The winners were Min and Kemboy, two Grade 1 winners, and the third was Rathvinden in the Grand National.

And Robbie Power rode three winners from just five rides.  Supasundae in the Aintree Hurdle, Lostintranslation in the Mildmay Chase, Reserve Tank in the Mersey Hurdle.  Three Grade 1 wins from five rides.  He deserved his Leading Rider award.

© The Irish Field, 13th April 2019