O’Leary looks set to end Tiger Roll’s National odyssey
Bookmakers make champion 10-1 to complete a hat-trick back at Aintree
Tiger Roll ridden by Davy Russell en route to winning the Grand National Handicap Chase at Aintree. Photograph: Jason Cairnduff/Reuters
There’s ample evidence in the business world as to the difficulty of changing Michael O’Leary’s mind which suggests it could be quite a task to persuade the Ryanair boss into allowing Tiger Roll a shot at history in next year’s Aintree Grand National.
No horse has ever won the world’s most famous steeplechase three times in a row. Only the legendary Red Rum has won the National three times in all.
But after becoming the first horse since ‘Rummy’ 45 years ago to win the National back to back on Saturday, O’Leary’s instincts appear to be to bring Tiger Roll’s National odyssey to a close.
Barely had the 19 finishers pulled up on Saturday before inevitable queries came about the chances of the greatest modern day National hero of all pulling off a hat-trick in 2020.
Initial bookmaker odds of just 10-1 indicated how Tiger Roll’s resoundingly authoritative display in leading home an Irish 1-2-3 represented a step-up again from his ultimately scrambling victory in 2018.
This time the famously little horse, whose immense heart helped provoke widespread comparisons to the similarly diminutive Red Rum, won with aplomb.
The National challenge is a very different one these days in terms of the fences. But considering how it can be argued the race is now deeper and more competitive it was a startlingly resounding success that suggested a rare champion in his element.
It was a third National in four years for O’Leary’s Gigginstown Stud team but asked shortly after the race if Tiger Roll will be back in 2020 the owner suggested “probably not” because of the likelihood of having to carry topweight.
Many might have been prepared to take that with several grains of salt, suspecting perhaps some subliminal plea to the handicapper for leniency. On Sunday however O’Leary looked to double-down.
“It’s very unlikely that he’ll come back and run in it again next year. He will be carrying topweight and he’s a small horse.
“Every time he runs now, I’m getting nervous and would hate for anything unfortunate to happen while he’s racing. There’s huge public affection and we’re duty bound to mind him now,” he told Racing TV.
“Tiger Roll isn’t Red Rum, he’s Tiger Roll, and I feel no pressure to go back and win it a third. His main target this year was the Cross-Country at Cheltenham and I think that will probably be his main target next year.
“I would be strongly of the view if he was to win the Cross Country next year for the third time, which would be his fifth win at Cheltenham, I would see no reason not to retire him at that point in time and let him go out on a high,” O’Leary added.
Tiger Roll’s trainer Gordon Elliott took a noticeably different tack on Sunday and said that if the most popular horse in racing is okay he could see no reason not to return to Aintree in 2020.
That would be one of the most eagerly-anticipated prospects in recent racing history. And for those eager to see it occur next year there is evidence that O’Leary can be open to persuasion.
Tiger Roll won at the Cheltenham festival for a fourth time last month and afterwards his owner indicated worry about going back to defend the National crown.
Overcoming those misgivings was gloriously vindicated on Saturday as Davy Russell guided the 4-1 favourite to a decisive defeat of the 66-1 outsider Magic Of Light with Rathvinden in third.
Earlier this season O’Leary also relented on allowing Apple’s Jade lining up in the Champion Hurdle although that outcome wasn’t as successful with the star mare ultimately finishing out of the money.
Whether or not ending Tiger Roll’s Aintree career at this stage is a premature move is likely to conjure plenty of future debate.
But for now though the businessman looked to capture the popular mood when he said: “People talk about next year, next year. But we should savour and enjoy these moments. The way the public has latched onto Tiger Roll has been incredible – you couldn’t write a better story.”
The ending however appears to be open to question.