In 2018 the diminutive Tiger Roll romped home in the Grand National for trainer Gordon Elliott and jockey Davy Russell. It was Elliott’s second win in the race after Silverbirch in 2007 and a first for Davy Russell. It was a beautiful display of jumping and in an instant, the whole world fell in love with Tiger Roll.
Fast forward to 2019 and following another masterful display at Cheltenham, the Tiger roared all the way to Aintree, going off as the favourite to win the race. And win it he did. As he crossed the finish line ahead of Magic Of Light, he rode straight into the history books as one of the very few horses who have managed back-to-back wins in the Grand National.
Since the days of The Duke winning two consecutive races in 1836 and 1837, there have only been four other horses that achieved the feat. Most notably among them was Red Rum who’s legendary Grand National performances earned him worldwide recognition and fame as one of the greatest chasers of all time.
And while Red Rum may have won three Nationals in total, he did not win them back-to-back. Tiger Roll, however, still had that opportunity. Undoubtedly his best chance would have been in 2020. We all know now that the race was cancelled so as we rolled around to 2021 it was all eyes on the Gigginstown 11-year-old.
Tiger Roll And The BHA Handicapper
Tiger Roll’s owner, Michael O’Leary, is not a man to mince his words. He speaks his mind and, as in previous years, made his thoughts the BHA Handicapper’s job very clear. If Tiger Roll was lumbered with top weight or near enough to it, Tiger Roll would not run.
His justification was that Tiger Roll was now much older and his form was on the decline. The bid for a fifth Cheltenham win in 2020 was cut short when Tiger Roll was beaten by Easysland in the Glenfarclas Chase by a whopping 17L. And as he returned this season, things didn’t get much better.
A quick Maiden trip around the Navan Racecourse over just 1m6f ended with a sixth-place finish in October. Three weeks later he headed to Cheltenham for the cross country but pulled up after 20 of the 32 fences. By the time he went back to Navan for the Boyne Hurdle on February 21st 2021, connections were scrambling for answers to yet another poor run.
Objectively, it’s easy to understand O’Leary’s position. Having started the 2019 National on a rating of 156 he suddenly found himself at 171 in the UK, despite not winning a race since. O’Leary wanted him to be judged by Martin Greenwood on form rather than reputation.
With the ratings condensed, Tiger Roll was marked off 166 and was duly handed 11-09. That, as far as Michael O’Leary was concerned, was just too much to ask of the horse. At the first declaration stage on Tuesday 2nd of March, Tiger Roll was withdrawn from the 2021 Grand National, and with it the chance to make history as the only horse to ever win three in a row.
Giggsinstown House Statement
The O’Leary’s made a statement to accompany the withdrawal and it reads as follows:
“We made clear that if Tiger Roll was rated in the 150s which is what his form and age now warrants, he would be allowed to run in this year’s National and go for a historic three in a row.
“However, the handicapper has decided to rate him on his reputation rather than his form – which we fully accept is his prerogative – but we have a duty of care to Tiger, and so we will not ask him to carry an unfair weight burden especially as he gets older and his form declines.
“We therefore regret to announce that Tiger Roll will be removed from the Grand National entries at Tuesday’s forfeit stage.
“We hope he will run next as planned in the cross-country race at Cheltenham, where we hope he will enjoy himself and run well.
“After that, we will consider his future wellbeing, which may involve retirement if his handicap mark is not adjusted to more fairly reflect his age and form over the past two seasons.”
Surprisingly the reaction was mixed. Many fans thought it was the right move after all Tiger Roll is older and pushing him to win another National when he isn’t on form could end in disaster.
Others thought the withdrawal was an overreaction and that the BHA Handicapper had little choice but to give him the weight he did. Even Ruby Walsh agreed with Martin Greenwood, the Handicapper.
As for Martin Greenwood himself, he stood his ground. Speaking to the Racing Post he said: “Mr and Mr O’Leary did say if he didn’t get a mark in the 150s they weren’t going to run.
“They’ve stuck to their words, albeit two weeks later. It’s entirely their decision, owners and trainers enter and withdraw horses all the time and this is just another instance.”
When asked about the O’Learys’ claim that Tiger Roll was weighted unfairly, he said: “They’ve stuck to that particular hymn sheet for approximately two years now and I’ve stuck to my particular hymn sheet – they’re entitled to their opinion and, as I said at the weights launch, I’m entitled to just carry on as normal.
“Potential history could have been made but that’s racing, these things happen and will always continue to happen.”
And with ends the Tiger Roll era of the Grand National. It would have been magnificent to see him race again at Aintree. Instead, we await a new hero on April 10th, and who knows, maybe they will go on to win three in a row!