His promise to put the horse first came as beaten jockeys spoke about what it meant to ride in a historic race in which the diminutive Tiger Roll became the first horse since the great Red Rum 45 years ago to win back-to-back renewals of the world’s most famous steeplechase.
Red Rum added a third National to his CV in 1977 - but Ryanair and Gigginstown House Stud supremo O’Leary is not keen on the idea of asking Tiger Roll, now nine, to return to Aintree and carry top-weight in 12 months’ time.
“It’s very unlikely that he’ll come back and run in it again next year,” he said. “He will be carrying top-weight, he is a small horse and every time he runs now I get nervous – I’d hate for anything unfortunate to happen to him while he’s racing.
“For his sake and for the sake of the race, I really wouldn’t want to bring him back shouldering huge lumps of weight. There’s no reason 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’s Tiger Roll – and I feel no pressure to go back and try to win a third time. There’s huge public affection for him and I think we’re duty-bound to mind him now.”
This was a history-defying win by Tiger Roll, a four-time Cheltenham Festival winner, as trainer Gordon Elliott recorded a third National win in 12 years.
“He is a once in a lifetime horse who has given us a twice in a lifetime experience,” he said.
Just the fifth horse to win successive Nationals, this win was even more impressive than last year’s photo-finish triumph. The horse had to carry an additional eight pounds, and the weight of public expectation, as the 4-1 favourite left bookmakers £250m out of pocket – their worst result in 172 renewals of the race.
Yet, while drying ground favoured the big-hearted Tiger Roll who beat the mare Magic Of Light by nearly three lengths amid deafening cheers, it was to the disadvantage of leading contenders like Lake View Lad, who was sensibly pulled up by Middleham jockey Henry Brooke.
“He’s one hell of a horse,” eulogised winning jockey Davy Russell, 39, who began his career with Ferdy Murphy in North Yorkshire. “He travelled really well throughout the race.
“He gave a couple of stumbles at the back of a few fences but every time he gave a stumble he went and jumped the next one really well. He’d keep you on your toes the whole time.”
And yet what was striking was how rival riders were proud to be part of racing history.
Take Jonathan Burke, 23, who had never ridden for Anthony Honeyball when he got the late call-up to partner the JP McManus-owned Regal Encore who was in the vanguard for much of the race before fading to seventh.
“Absolutely thrilled,” he told The Yorkshire Post. “I started to dream three or four out, even crossing the Melling Road, and then we were running on fumes. What a thrill he gave me.
“I was beside Tiger Roll going down to the first and in front of him for the best part of a circuit. He was always travelling supremely. To ride in a race that will go down in history was special. It is very rare for a Gold Cup or Grand National horse to come back because winning the first time takes so much out of them.
“We probably didn’t appreciate Kauto Star, Denman and Best Mate. He’s up there with them.”
This view was shared by 20-year-old Sam Coltherd, who completed the course on Captain Redbeard, owned and trained by his father Stuart, in 16th place after failing to see out the marathon trip.
To them, this was as good as any win in their careers after the drama of the first fence when Captain Redbeard landed safely – and then had to leap over Vintage Clouds and jockey Danny Cook who were the race’s first casualty.
“I caught a wee look at Tiger Roll in the race,” said Coltherd. “I thought I must be judging the pace well if I was near Davy (Russell).
“And as we all started to struggle, he just travelled better and better. It’s great to have been part of history. What a race.”