Michael O’Leary, the owner of Tiger Roll, was not enthusiastic with the whole idea until a few days ago. “He’s getting older; he may not run again after Cheltenham. His last couple of runs suggest he’s not in love with the game anymore and the priority at this point is minding Tiger Roll,” O’Leary told Racing TV on February 7th. And yet, what everybody expects of the 2021 Grand National at Aintree Racecourse is the thrill of seeing the beloved horse compete for a historic third consecutive victory. Only the legendary Red Rum was a triple winner at the Grand National and that across five years.
The fans of Tiger Roll were doubly disappointed in 2020. The most demanding horse race of the season had to be cancelled. The televised virtual version was won by Potters Corner, with the great favourite earning a meagre fourth place. Now fans are biting their nails waiting for the hour of destiny on Saturday, April 10th. They can temporarily breathe with relief on the matter of Tiger Roll’s participation in the race: the 11-year old heads the list of 106 entries. But it is not a hundred percent sure yet.
Concern for Tiger Roll’s welfare rather than his glory is no news, as far as O’Leary is concerned. Last year he was already uncertain about the opportunity to let his favourite run at Aintree. At that time, Tiger Roll was recovering from surgery to treat a bad knee injury. To make things worse, he was given a handicap mark of 168, which his owner considers excessive. “He last won the National off 159. He’s run four times since and has not finished in the frame. He was beaten by Easysland by 17 lengths off level weights – Easysland is now rated 167, yet somehow Tiger Roll is still rated around 170.” O’Leary said in the same interview. “The handicapper has unfairly weighted Tiger Roll for the last two years in the UK. I think if he rates him fairly, somewhere in the 150s, then he’ll run in the Grand National. If he rates him in the 160s or 170s, he won’t, and we’ll take him out after the weights. He’s a small horse, we’re not going to ask him to lump huge amounts of weight around Aintree. We have a responsibility to the horse. He owes us nothing, he’s a four-time winner at Cheltenham and a two-time Grand National winner.”
The Grand National is a dangerous race that saw the death of 83 horses since it began in 1839. The notorious most difficult fence, “The Chair”, even claimed a human life, that of a jockey in 1862. The 4 miles or 2 ½ furlongs racecourse has 16 steeples. The first fence is not so tall, at 4 ft 6 inches, but the horses have to jump it immediately after charging out of the gates, so it has caused many falls. The sixth fence was named “Bechers Brook” after Captain Martin Becher fell on the steep drop on the other side and crouched in the brook while all the other horses jumped over him.