“Going to the start, when we were parading, the commentator said his name and he stood up and put his chest out”, jockey Davy Russell said of his ‘rock star’ equine partner Tiger Roll in April 2019, when they won their second Grand National in a row. At 15.2 hands, the Irish-bred bay gelding is small for a racehorse. But he is the favourite to become the greatest, on April 4th. Tiger Roll tops the full list of 105 names for the race at Aintree that was published at the end of January and Grand national sign up offers for 2020 are now available. Everyone is calculating the odds on the possible third victory that would further elevate Tiger Roll, from rock star to legend.
The Gran National is not only the most popular horserace in the world. With 40 runners, 30 fences and more than four-and-a-quarter miles, it is also the most demanding challenge for any horse and jockey couple. “To win one is a dream. To do it twice is a fairytale.”, is the conventional wisdom among racetrack aficionados. A third victory in a row has never been seen. Yet. Tiger Roll’s predecessor, Red Rum, did earn three victories (1973,1974 and 1977), but with two second places in the intervening years, 1975 and 1976.
Tiger Roll was foaled 14 March 2010, bred in Ireland by Gerry O’Brien. He was sold several times before being acquired by Michael O’Leary’s Gigginstown House Stud and put into training at Gordon Elliot’s Cullentra House Stables in County Meath, Ireland. He is well loved by racecourse aficionados and the general public alike, both adult and children. Apart from being a champion, the petit Irish really seems to enjoy being a celebrity.
His owner loves him too, so much so that the Ryanair tycoon has threateaned to withdraw Tiger Roll from the Grand National if the handicap placed on him stays too heavy. O’Leary has been quoted as saying that he doesn’t give “a shite about history” unless the horse is “given a chance” by the British handicapper on Feb. 11, when weights will be revealed. The expectations are that Tiger Roll be asked to carry topweight of 11.10 in the handicap event. O’Leary has declared he has no problem with that but he expects the ‘compression’ policy to be used, to get some extra weight off his horse’s shoulders, so to speak.
Money is not everything, in other words. Horse welfare is important to the Irish tycoon. His brother Eddie, Gigginstown spokesman, has confirmed that Michael will be adamant on his decision on not endangering Tiger Roll: “Racing wants him, we want him, Aintree wants him, everyone wants him. But unless he’s given a chance he will not run. They have one chance to treat the horse fairly”. His many fans, and armies of punters, must brace themselves for a possible huge disappointment and no hat-trick next April.