Horse of a lifetime Tiger Roll secures historic Grand double
As he waited for Tiger Roll to make his way from the course to the winner's enclosure, Michael O'Leary, the horse's owner and boss of Ryanair, was wearing a grin of total contentment. With his arms aloft, he was marking a significant moment: he was making history. Or rather his horse was. The mount that took the race by storm last year had, with a supreme confidence that almost bordered on ease, negotiated his way to victory again.
"I had very little to do with it," O'Leary responded to the enthusiasts who congratulated him on his achievement. "It's the horse. He's an underdog, that's why the public latch on to him, because he's a little rat of a thing. God, I'm so in love with rats."
O'Leary is probably right not to take any organisational credit: if he ran his horses with the same imprecise approach to geography with which he runs his airline, then Tiger Roll would have just landed at the winning post at Chepstow. Nonetheless, there can be no denying the history that was being written across the Aintree turf.
For the first time in more than four decades a horse had won back-to-back Grand Nationals. Forty-five years of hurt put right in a magnificent gallop. And as the uninhibited celebrations round the course suggested, this was the kind of response to victory that only comes when a much-loved favourite romps home.
As ripped-up newspapers were flung in the air, as showers of beer cascaded, as racegoers engaged in bear hugs with bystanders they had never before met, O'Leary had just made the lives of the people of Merseyside a touch richer. Which is not something you normally can say about Ryanair.
"There'll be a free bar on board the flight from Liverpool to Dublin tonight," O'Leary said when he spoke in the press room afterwards. "If opening up a free bar is the cost of winning the Grand National, then it is money well spent."
In the time since Red Rum captured the nation's hearts, everything has changed at the National. Not least in the choice of moniker for horses. Back then the people's champion was named after an alcoholic tipple; now it is inspired by a sushi dish. And Red Rum in many ways rescued an institution that was under threat of demise.
Back in the '70s, Aintree looked likely to be modernised under a housing development, unhappy noises were being made about how nobody could make financial sense of the race. The belief was back then that Red Rum's victory revivified its legend.
There was no sense of such jeopardy at Aintree yesterday. As Tiger Roll sought to emulate the old Blackpool flier's achievement, the event was more commercially muscular than ever. Every year, ever more people totter through the gates.
The race has metamorphosed into a 20-something fashion festival. In the sparkling spring sunshine, this was young Merseyside en fete. Everywhere you looked there were ankle-grabbing trousers and no socks, fascinators and pencil skirts. And while there was none of the fancy speed-pouring systems of the new Tottenham stadium and the beer was delivered by staff wearing backpacks, it certainly did not seem to slow the flow of lubrication.
By the time the big race began at 5.15pm, one chap was face down on the grass bank by the parade ring already comatose even as the horses made their way towards the course.
But those who stayed sufficiently alert to watch Tiger Roll ease his way across 40 treacherous fences to come home first were certain of one thing: this was a special champion in action.
"It was a better win than last year," said O'Leary, nursing what looked like the first of many glasses of champagne. "He always seemed to be in the right place. There was never a moment's worry. God, what a horse."
It was a mark of his quality that, while his trainer Gordon Elliott had increased his chances of victory by sending out 11 horses into the field, seven of them owned by O'Leary, none of the other mounts came anywhere near the winner's enclosure.
With this horse in their portfolio it might be wondered why the pair bother with a backstop. The bad news for the delighted hordes beaming as they picked up their winnings from the bookies' kiosks around Aintree, however, is that Tiger Roll is unlikely to be back next year.
O'Leary claimed he had no desire, given that the horse would be almost certain to be burdened with an ever-greater weight handicap after winning again, to risk his champion's health on a third attempt. And if it seemed extraordinary that the owner, after succeeding twice, had no ambition to try and close down Red Rum's record of three wins, Elliott was quick to dismiss the idea that the horse had more to prove.
"He's won two Grand Nationals and four Cheltenham Festivals - that's a legend for me," he said. "He's the horse of a lifetime."
As the uninhibited celebrations of his victory threatened to continue long into the night in the Aintree bars, there are many who would suggest if not a horse of a lifetime, Tiger Roll is without doubt a horse to inspire a heck of a night out.
Bookies rue darkest day
Bookmakers were left ruing the “most expensive result in Grand National history” after Tiger Roll secured back-to-back victories.
Gordon Elliott’s charge was a well-backed 4/1 favourite, and Alan Alger, spokesman for Betway, reckons it was the worst ever result for bookmakers.
“The quarter-of-a-billion-pound bombshell has landed,” he said. “Tiger Roll has inflicted the most expensive result in Grand National history.
“People have been backing this horse since he got his head in front here last year, and he will go down as the greatest ever result for punters.
“There’s been a few favourable results across the week for us bookies. But it was always going to come down to the National — and we’ve been well and truly wiped out.”
Ladbrokes’ Nicola McGeady felt 66/1 shot Magic Of Light finishing second combined with 25/1 chance Walk In The Mill claiming fourth had mitigated the blow a little.
She said: “Tiger Roll is the most popular Grand National winner since Red Rum.”