An ominous silence from Michael O'Leary greeted confirmation that Tiger Roll will have to carry his biggest ever Aintree Grand National weight if he is to pull off an unprecedented three-in-a-row in the world's most famous steeplechase in April.
The announcement of the National weights on Tuesday saw the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) handicapper give Tiger Roll an official mark of 166 and a race weight of 11-9.
That’s higher than the 150 rating Tiger Roll won off in 2018 and the 159 he was successful at in 2019. However, it is lower than what he would have raced off last year had the National not been cancelled due to coronavirus.
O’Leary and his Gigginstown Stud team have protested vehemently about what they feel to be the BHA’s excessive assessment of their diminutive star and last week the Ryanair boss threatened not to run Tiger Roll in the National if he was rated in the 160s.
Last year he relented on the ratings issue although wider circumstances made it academic anyway. But one bookmaker’s move on Tuesday to make it odds-on Tiger Roll won’t line up at Aintree underlined fears that one of the greatest National legends of all may be absent.
Tiger Roll's trainer Gordon Elliott, chasing a record-equalling fourth National victory in all, was philosophical about the BHA's assessment and admitted that the rating is "probably fair enough".
“I have to concentrate on training the horse and I just hope his owner lets the horse run in the race for the public. Everyone will be looking forward to seeing the horse run again in the Grand National but Michael will make that decision,” he said.
“It will be disappointing for everyone if he doesn’t turn up but as you know he [O’Leary] makes the decisions. He is 7lb higher than what he won off before but it is probably fair enough. I sort of expected that really,” Elliott added.
However the normally outspoken businessman was keeping tight-lipped on Tuesday and his brother Eddie said: “We’ve said all we’re going to say on the matter and will be offering no further comment.”
A final decision on Tiger Roll’s participation may not emerge until the National’s next acceptance stage.
Eddie O’Leary did make a point though of paying tribute to the former chairman of Aintree racecourse, Rose Patterson, who took her own life last year. He said her absence from this year’s National will be felt much more keenly than anything else.
Other bookmakers, apparently convinced that O’Leary’s threats are empty, made Tiger Roll a 10-1 clear favourite to complete a National hat-trick.
The centre of attention in all this could make his first start since being pulled up at Cheltenham in November over hurdles this weekend. Tiger Roll has been entered for both Gowran’s Red Mills Hurdle on Saturday and the following day’s Ladbrokes Boyne Hurdle at Navan.
The ground at both tracks is heavy and Elliott commented: “He is in the Boyne Hurdle at the weekend but the ground is very soft so we might not run him. If it isn’t too bad he will run.
“He made a mistake the last day at Cheltenham and he was lame after the race but thankfully he is okay now.
“We injected his stifles behind and thankfully he is back sound and moving very well and we are very happy with him at the moment. We will keep our heads up and hopefully he will be okay for the rest of the season.”
Forty-three of the 105 entries left in the National are Irish-trained. They include the Willie Mullins-trained Burrows Saint as well as Any Second Now, whose trainer Ted Walsh won with Papillon 21 years ago. Both are prominent in ante-post betting.