TIGER Roll will have to defy weight – and history – if he’s to win an unprecedented third successive Randox Health Grand National this April.
However he is a far from certain runner after connections took umbrage at the 2018 and 2019 hero being allocated joint top weight of 11st 10lb.
Trained in Ireland by Gordon Elliott, and owned by Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary’s Gigginstown House Stud, he shares the rating with stablemate Delta Work – the Irish Gold Cup winner.
“We will have to have a serious think about whether he will run or not,” said O’Leary’s brother Eddie who is Gigginstown’s racing manager.
“I mean that. He really is not certain to line up. Delta Work is our Gold Cup horse and the handicapper thinks Tiger Roll is as good as him, that makes no sense to me at all.
“Tiger Roll is a brilliant, brilliant horse and he is completely invaluable to us, but we have to do our best by the horse. What is far more important at this present time is that he gets through Sunday at Navan okay and then comes out of Cheltenham and the Cross Country race in one piece. That’s at the front of our minds at the moment.”
However Aintree officials believe this could be the best National ever, in terms of quality, after the official launch of the weights for the world’s greatest steeplechase.
It saw Catterick trainer Phil Kirby’s Top Ville Ben rated ninth in the handicap on 11st 2lb following his win in Wetherby’s Rowland Meyrick Chase on Boxing Day under Tommy Dowson.
Definitly Red – trained at Malton by Brian Ellison – is 23rd on 10st 10lb. He was pulled up in the 2017 National after jockey Danny Cook’s saddle slipped.
And Vintage Clouds – a first fence faller last year – is 30th with 10st 8lb following his fine win in last month’s Peter Marsh Chase at Haydock. He is trained at High Eldwick by Sue and Harvey Smith, who saddled Auroras Encore to National glory in 2013, and could reappear in Haydock’s Grand National Trial this weekend.
Also with an eyecatching mark is last season’s Irish Grand National winner Burrows Saint for Ireland’s champion trainer Willie Mullins. He’s on 10st 10lb. Dual Becher Chase winner Walk In The Mill, trained by Yorkshire-born Robert Walford, was fourth last year and is on 10st 4lb. He needs seven higher-rated horses to be withdrawn to make the 40-runner cut.
However the reaction reverberated around the handicapper’s assessment of Tiger Roll who carried 10st 3lb to victory in 2018 and then 11st 5lb the following year when recording back-to-back victories under the evergreen jockey Davy Russell.
No horse has carried more weight to victory since Ginger McCain’s legendary Red Rum overcame a burden of 12st to record his second triumph in 1974. He had just 11st 8lb when winning for a record third time in 1977.
The best weight-carrying performance of recent years came in 2015 when Many Clouds, one of the most popular horses, of the past decade, shouldered 11st 9lb.
However BHA handicapper Martin Greenwood said Tiger Roll’s winning mark last year did not take account of the horse’s win in Cheltenham’s Cross Country’s race which came after the publication of the National weights.
“Tiger Roll was rated 172 at the end of last year and obviously there is no recent evidence to go on because of his fitness issues, so his handicap mark has been unquantifiable since,” he said.
“Tiger Roll has also not yet qualified for this year’s National. Whilst he may run in the Boyne Hurdle at Navan on Sunday, he still has to run in a chase to qualify.
“The race boasts the winners of races such as the Grand National, Irish National, Welsh National, Rowland Meyrick Chase, Cheltenham Gold Cup and much more. It is as good a staying handicap as would be run anywhere. You could argue that it is the highest quality Grand National in modern history.”