‘I had myself convinced that I was after losing the Grand National' – Davy Russell recalls Tiger Roll's Aintree heroics

Tiger Roll with Davy Russell. Photo: Sportsfile

Michael Verney

Davy Russell had ridden out the closing stages of the Aintree Grand National so many times in his mind.

It's every jockey's dream to partner the winner of the world's most famous steeplechase and there was a definite plan in place of how Russell would go about it if the opportunity arose.

It's a taxing stamina test run over 4m2f (and another 74yards for good measure) and Russell knew that patience was needed with a demanding run to the finishing line.

That didn't stop him losing the run of himself a little bit when Tiger Roll had the 2018 renewal at his mercy, however, having travelled and jumped beautifully to bring him into contention.

"I'm after winning it a hundred times, from when I was eight years of age, I've won the Grand National in my head so many times," Russell said on TG4's Laochra na Rásaíochta series, which airs tomorrow night at 8.0.

"You don't take it up until The Elbow, it's as simple as that but it's a different story when you're out there."

Russell had reckoned that the pint-sized Tiger Roll, bred to be an Epsom Derby horse and not a National Hunt hero, may not get past the first obstacle due to his lack of respect for fences but now he was in for the longest wait of his life.

The shadows of the post couldn't come quickly enough for Gordon Elliott's charge as the Willie Mullins-trained Pleasant Company closed him down with every stride before they crossed the line in unison.

"As I hit the line, this horse just went 'Whoosh' straight by me and he's definitely a length up on me a stride after the line. I'm saying 'I should've done this and I should've done that'," Russell recalled.

"'I'm after losing, I've had my chance. I'll never get another chance'. There were so many things going through my head and I couldn't tell myself I was after winning the Grand National.

"I had myself convinced that I was after losing the Grand National until he (the PA) shouted 'Number 13 Tiger Roll'."

The smallest horse in the race and the oldest rider (he was aged 38 at the time) in the weighing room had done it with Russell immediately putting his hands out as if to give thanks to a higher power for giving him his finest day in the sun.

Elliott, a lifelong friend of Russell's, barrelled in with a hug as more than 500 million people watched on from all parts of the world.

It had been a tough year for Russell after losing his mother Phyllis but she was with him on that day.

"It was the year Mam passed away and I'm not into anything special but I would definitely say it was the closest thing I've gotten to meeting her again," Russell revealed.

"It was an extraordinary feeling. It was something I've never experienced before. You can ride all the winners you want but to win a Grand National is extraordinary."

Tiger Roll, who Russell describes as having "an engine the size of a Maserati", would repeat the dose a year later when becoming the first back-to-back winner since the mighty Red Rum.

The 'Tiger' was paraded down the streets of Elliott's native Summerhill in front of his adoring fans as he etched his place further into racing folklore in a career that yielded two Aintree triumphs as well as five Cheltenham Festival successes.

Irish-trained horses have taken the last four renewals of the Liverpool showpiece, but few were achieved in more ground-breaking fashion than the success of Rachael Blackmore aboard Minella Times in the 2021 edition.

Having fulfilled a dream by riding in the 2018 renewal, Blackmore ended up on the floor in a crushing fall from Alpha Des Obeaux before she came home 10th a year later aboard Valseur Lido. A lot had changed by the time the mount on Minella Times rolled around, though.

Blackmore had already had a week for the ages at the Cheltenham Festival the previous month when Honeysuckle helped her to become the first female jockey to ride the winner of a Champion Hurdle while she was also crowned leading rider at the Cotswolds.

She had broken new ground for female riders in achieving both feats but that paled into comparison with how success aboard Henry de Bromehead's eight-year-old sent her star soaring into the stratosphere.

"It's still so hard to explain that feeling. It's that moment when you cross the line and you have finally allowed yourself to believe that this is after happening. It was just incredible," Blackmore said.

"I definitely got a global realisation of the pull which the Grand National has after that day. That race just seems to reach every corner of the world in some shape or form."

Laochra na Rásaíochta - Irish Winners of the Aintree Grand National Part II airs on TG4 this Wednesday, March 29 at 8.0