Photo Credit: The Grand National, taken by Nick Smith on Geograph.org.uk (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/)
Written by Toby Foster (@TobyFost)
Well-backed favourite Tiger Roll became the first horse in 45 years to win back-to-back Grand Nationals after storming home in the Aintree showpiece on Saturday.
The Irish-trained 9-year-old, ridden by Davy Russell and trained by Gordon Elliott, jumped to the lead at the final fence and stayed on stoutly to win by 2.75 lengths from Magic Of Light, with Rathvinden finishing third.
Not since Red Rum’s consecutive victories in 1973 and 1974 had a horse managed to retain the Grand National title, but Tiger Roll ensured his own prominent place in the memory of the racing public when fending off all his rivals for the second time at Aintree.
An emotional Davy Russell paid tribute to his “amazing” mount, saying that Tiger Roll “did everything so well, he just loves running and jumping”.
However, the occasion was marred by the first equine fatality in the Grand National for seven years, with Up For Review being euthanised after sustaining injuries in a fall at the first fence.
Tiger Rolls-Royce as rivals flounder
Sent off the 4/1 favourite to win his second Grand National, the race itself could not have developed more advantageously for Tiger Roll.
Held well back off the pace, the reigning champion watched his trio of principal challengers falter one-by-one.
Highly-fancied Vintage Clouds got no further than the first fence, whilst Rock The Kasbah came down at the 19th obstacle and last year’s runner-up Pleasant Company unseated his rider after jumping the fourth-last.
Breezing into contention during the final mile, Tiger Roll looked to be travelling much more comfortably than his remaining competitors and kicked away from the rest of the field having jumped the 30th and final fence.
Magic Of Light, the only mare in the race, gave game chase in second up the run-in but she could not reel in the winner, who was roared past the finishing post by a 75,000-strong Aintree crowd.
Well-backed Rathvinden crossed the line in third, with Walk In The Mill fourth and Anibale Fly running commendably under top weight to claim fifth spot.
2017 winner One For Arthur, who has suffered from injury problems since his triumph two years ago, showed he still retains much of his old zest when staying on admirably to clinch sixth position.
Connections’ delight at ‘special’ win
Tiger Roll’s trainer Gordon Elliott, who also won the Grand National with Silver Birch in 2007, was elated after watching his stable’s star performer record another victory in the big race.
“For Tiger to win, it’s special”, he said.
“It’s the best day of my training career, to win three Grand Nationals. You dream about this.
“He’s the horse of a lifetime.”
Owner Michael O’Leary, who also won the National with Rule The World in 2016, admitted he had doubts before the race about whether Tiger Roll could defend his title.
“I thought he had no chance today, carrying that weight, but it was a beautiful ride.
“He’s got to a stage now where you just want to mind him. Every time he runs, you think ‘oh my God, please don’t let anything happen to him’. But it’s just unbelievable.
“What a horse. He keeps winning and he keeps improving.”
“Red Rum was a legend and now Tiger Roll is a legend.”
Hat-trick attempt? “Very unlikely”
Having emulated ‘Rummie’ in landing back-to-back Grand National wins, talk quickly turned to whether Tiger Roll would attempt an unprecedented consecutive treble in the 2020 renewal of the race.
Michael O’Leary was dismissive of such suggestions, saying it was “very unlikely” that Tiger Roll would line up next year at Aintree.
“He [would] be carrying top-weight, he is a small horse and every time he runs now, I get nervous”, O’Leary said.
“I’d hate for anything unfortunate to happen to him while he’s racing.
“Tiger Roll isn’t Red Rum. He’s Tiger Roll. I feel no pressure to go back and try to win a third time.”
Few fallers but death fuels concerns over horse safety
The race saw a remarkably low number of fallers, with just two horses coming to grief on the first circuit- Vintage Clouds and Up For Review.
Whilst Vintage Clouds was unhurt and returned safely to the stables, Up For Review suffered serious injuries in his fall at the first fence, resulting in the obstacle being omitted on the final circuit. Up For Review was later euthanised.
The death, although the first in the Grand National since 2012, sparked anger from animal welfare organisations. The RSPCA called for “urgent action to reduce the risk of these tragedies occurring”, and PETA criticised the “horrors of the racing industry”.
The British Horseracing Authority promised to “analyse what happened and leave no stone unturned in doing so”.
FULL FINISHING ORDER: 1st: Tiger Roll, 2nd: Magic of Light, 3rd: Rathvinden, 4th: Walk In The Mill, 5th: Anibale Fly, 6th: One For Arthur, 7th: Regal Encore, 8th: Singlefarmpayment, 9th: Outlander, 10th: Valseur Lido, 11th: Livelovelaugh, 12th: A Toi Phil, 13th: Bless The Wings, 14th: Ultragold, 15th: Vieux Lion Rouge, 16th: Captain Redbeard, 17th: Folsom Blue, 18th: Valtor, 19th: Don Poli.