Mullingar resident, Michael O’Leary made history on 6 April when his horse Tiger Roll became the first horse since Red Rum to win the Aintree Grand National for the second year running at odds of 4/1 favourite. The winning connections won prize money of £561,300.
Tiger Roll won twelve of his thirty-five races including four hurdle races and eight steeplechases. His career winnings, including the latest Grand National, come to £1,227,895. He won first time out in a juvenile hurdle at Market Rasen in November 2013 when trained by Nigel Hawke in Devon. He was then bought by Gigginstown House Stud and moved to trainer Gordon Elliott in Summerhill, Co Meath. He won the JCB Triumph Hurdle at the 2014 Cheltenham Festival in only his third race.
The horse went through a barren spell in 2015 and did not win again until taking a steeplechase at Ballinrobe by eight lengths in May 2016, his first run over fences. His next big success was at the 2017 Cheltenham Festival where he won the JT McNamara National Hunt Chase. His final prep race prior to running in the 2018 Aintree Grand National was at Cheltenham where he won the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase.
The 2019 campaign began with a hurdle race at Navan in February which he won comfortably at a generous 25/1. He followed this up at Cheltenham where he again won the Cross Country Chase by an emphatic twenty-two lengths.
Speaking at the press conference after the race winning jockey Dave Russell said “He travelled really well. I thought he was overdoing it, but he jumped really well. He’s so quick [jumping] and that just kept getting him back into the race. He was passing horses in mid-air.”
Winning owner, Michael O’Leary gave his assessment of the race at the press conference. “It really feels like an out-of-body experience. The bizarre thing is it seemed to be, if anything an easier, more comfortable ride, a better win this year than last year. He always seemed to be in the right place. I think he stumbled twice at about six and four from home, kinda woke him up and it was never a moment’s worry. It’s bizarre,” said O’Leary.
In strict racing terms, the Grand National is not a top-class race. It is a Grade 3 Handicap chase over four and a quarter miles. It is the longest race in the UK racing calendar and is a test of jumping and stamina rather than speed. Grade 1 races such as the King George VI Chase, the Betfair Chase, the Tingle Creek, the Ascot Chase and the Ryanair Chase are of higher status than the Grand National. The most prestigious chase of all is the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Horses that compete in these top-level races rarely compete in the Grand National. Gold Cup winners such as Denman, Kauto Star and three-time winner Best Mate never ran in the Grand National.
Yet, the Grand National has an allure and romance that is unique. It remains the most famous steeplechase of all and is watched by 500-600 million people worldwide. This is a bigger audience than for any other sporting event, except for the FIFA World Cup Final. It is the one day in the year when those who have no interest in racing tune in.