Friday 23 August 2019

Mixed signals over ‘Tiger’ hat-trick bid

O'Leary 'duty-bound to mind' National hero but Elliott won't rule out Aintree return

Seal it with a kiss: Davy Russell enjoying a quiet moment yesterday with Tiger Roll. Photo: PA
Seal it with a kiss: Davy Russell enjoying a quiet moment yesterday with Tiger Roll. Photo: PA

Marcus Armytage

As Tiger Roll, the first horse to win back-to-back Grand Nationals in 45 years, paraded in trainer Gordon Elliott's home town of Summerhill, Co Meath, yesterday, 24 hours after conquering Aintree for a second time, the most oft-asked question was: "Next year?"

Even Red Rum, the last horse to win consecutive Nationals in 1973-'74, did not manage three in a row and there is, of course, an awful lot of water to pass under the bridge before the 173rd Grand National.

Indeed, the first time any sort of decision has to be made about Tiger Roll's participation is at the entry stage in 10 months' time.

But, while it seems Elliott would happily pre-book the nine-year-old on the Dún Laoghaire-Holyhead ferry for next April, owner Michael O'Leary and his brother Eddie, racing manager for Gigginstown Stud, were more certain that a third National is not on their agenda and "very unlikely" to happen.

"He will be carrying top weight, he is a small horse and every time he runs now I get nervous," Michael O'Leary told Racing TV's Luck on Sunday show.

"I would hate anything unfortunate to happen to him while he is racing. For his sake, and the sake of the race, I really wouldn't want to bring him back shouldering huge lumps of weight.

"There is no need to emulate Red Rum's feat. Red Rum saved the Grand National and put it back on the map at a time when it was struggling.

"Tiger Roll isn't Red Rum - he is Tiger Roll - and I feel no pressure to go back and try and win it a third time.

"There is huge public affection for him and I think we are duty-bound to mind him now.

"In racing everyone talks about next year, but really we should just savour this is history being made.

"We didn't enjoy Red Rum sufficiently when he was winning those Nationals. He got all the credit he was due in the years after he retired."

However, while it may not be the case in business, in his hobby the Ryanair boss has some previous form in changing his mind, although equally he is not someone who is easily bullied by public opinion.

Apple's Jade was not going to run in the Champion Hurdle after her win at Leopardstown - she did - and even Tiger Roll was not going to go to Aintree after winning the cross-country three weeks earlier.

In an ideal world, O'Leary would love Tiger Roll to win that race a third time and call it a day with him.

Elliott called his third National the greatest moment of his career, which had barely begun when he won it with Silver Birch in 2008.

Singing from a slightly different hymn sheet to the owner about a third crack at the race, he said: "You never know - we won't rule it out. He won a bit easier this year, but he went into the race in better form."

While neither O'Leary nor Elliott felt pressure going into Saturday's race, the same could not be said of winning jockey Davy Russell.

"I felt it (the pressure) a lot in the build-up because I knew he was the horse who could do it," he said.

"I didn't want to let down the butcher or taxi driver who had their fiver on Tiger Roll. I felt I was riding for the whole country."

Russell dedicated his triumph to former Cork footballer Kieran O'Connor, who is currently battling Ewing's Sarcoma - a type of cancer that forms in the bones or soft tissue.

"There's a guy at home, Kieran - Kieran O'Connor from Aghada - and he's going through an enormous battle of his life.

"Just to let him know that we're thinking of him. He played football for Cork and he gave his life to sport. He's a real fan of mine. This one's for Kieran," said Russell.

The horse will now spend his summer holidays turned out in the field in front of O'Leary's home comparing notes with Gold Cup winners War Of Attrition and Don Cossack, and Gigginstown's first National winner, Rule The World.


Runner-up Magic Of Light will go down the mares' hurdle and chasing route before returning for a second go.

"She is perfect today," said trainer Jessica Harrington, who was less than three lengths off becoming the first female trainer to win jump racing's holy trinity of Champion Hurdle, Gold Cup and National.

"She absolutely loved it. I don't think the mistake at The Chair cost her the race because she was running away again going down to Becher's second time. She is very tough - that was her fifth run in England this season."

Barry Geraghty, who watched the race on television in a Dublin hospital, will have his leg, which was broken in two places last Thursday, pinned today. He has set the Galway Festival at the end of July as a target for his return.

© Daily Telegraph, London

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