THE heroics of Tiger Roll and Davy Russell at Aintree last Saturday earn pride of place this week as the dust begins to settle on another epic edition of the Randox Health Grand National.
Once again the Liverpool spectacular more than lived up to expectations as it culminated in a gripping finale where the flagging Tiger Roll just held off Pleasant Company. Indeed the finish of the great race provided a neat snapshot of the entire National Hunt season as a Gordon Elliott-trained runner just held the late charge of a Willie Mullins inmate.
As with any National winner there are many strands to the story and it was fitting given the season he has been having that Davy Russell (38) should finally secure the most iconic prize in steeplechasing.
Russell, who will regain his champion jockey’s title in just over a week’s time, spoke eloquently and passionately in the immediate aftermath of one of the most momentous triumphs of his career. It says much about Russell that in the midst of utmost euphoria he had the time to remember Pat Smullen’s battle with illness.
Gordon Elliott, Davy Russell and Michael and Anita O'Leary pose with the trophy for the Grand National
For Gordon Elliott this was a second National triumph and it is hard to credit the changes that has spanned the 11 years between the victories of Silver Birch and Tiger Roll. Back in 2007 Elliott hadn’t even trained a winner in Ireland but in 2018 he has become the only trainer in Irish racing history to send out more than 200 winners in a National Hunt season. His eight winners at Cheltenham last month was a record-equalling tally and he is currently embroiled in a titanic battle with Willie Mullins for the champion trainers title.
Truly it has been a decade of seismic change for Elliott whose alliance with Tiger Roll’s owner Michael O’Leary has produced one big race winner after another. Indeed there have been plenty of classier horses to carry the Gigginstown House Stud silks but few if any have the versatility and heart to match that of Tiger Roll.
The central figure in the National was Tiger Roll himself whose remarkable career has spanned the most unlikely heights. After beginning his career in a Market Rasen juvenile hurdle in November 2013, he went on to win the Triumph Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival the following March, but there followed a fallow period and it looked as though his career might be in terminal decline at one point.
Unusually for one so precocious, Tiger Roll made relentless progress when his attentions were fixed on chasing and he has not looked back since he landed a beginner’s chase at Ballinrobe in 2016. Two more Festival victories in the National Hunt Chase and the Cross Country Chase followed before last weekend’s heroics at Aintree.
At times Tiger Roll’s jumping has given cause for concern and a look at last year’s four miler at Cheltenham shows that he can take more than his share of liberties at his fences. However, he was most assured at all stages of the Grand National where he negotiated the course like an old hand. His return to Liverpool in 2019 is eagerly awaited.