Rathvinden has credentials to make Grand statement
Walsh’s in-form pick showed his stamina by winning last year’s four-miler at Cheltenham
Keith Donoghue with Grand National favourite Tiger Roll at Gordon Ellliott’s yard at Cullentra, Co Meath. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho
A year ago Tiger Roll’s dramatic Randox Aintree Grand National success meant Gordon Elliott got the better of Willie Mullins and on Saturday Irish racing’s greatest rivals can once again dominate the world’s most famous steeplechase.
Numerically they already do. Mullins has four runners, a figure dwarfed by Elliott’s record 11 starters. That’s over a third of the 40-runner field between them.
In fact, Elliott’s strength in depth could have stretched to 13 starters had Michael O’Leary not sold both Outlander and Don Poli to new connections for a total of almost €350,000 on Thursday.
The admittedly unlikely idea of such financial prudence backfiring to the extent of either outsider actually winning for new connections might have the Ryanair boss sweating a little come 5.15 on Saturday.
O’Leary’s nerves will probably be jangling a lot more about the fortunes of his diminutive hero Tiger Roll. Famously unsentimental in the normal run of things, Tiger Roll’s remarkable achievements appear to have got under the businessman’s skin.
After a fourth Cheltenham festival success last month, O’Leary even mooted the idea of not coming back to Aintree at all, admitting to worries about the horse he famously once described as “a little rat of thing”.
Not surprisingly though, Tiger Roll does lead O’Leary’s own seven-strong Gigginstown Stud team into another National and with a place in Aintree folklore in his sights.
Just four horses have ever won the great race back-to-back. The last of them was 45 years ago and the greatest National of legend of all, Red Rum.
Tiger Roll’s back-story doesn’t contain heart-warming details such as being trained behind a car showroom like ‘Rummy’ was back in the day.
But he has started to capture the public imagination like the other physically unimposing but huge-hearted star of yore and will carry huge support into the race that still pierces the public consciousness like no other.
That could see Tiger Roll become one of those famous National public gambles with predictions he might even start as short as the 1919 winner Poethyln (11-4) a century ago.
The shortest priced National favourite ever was the legendary Golden Miller who went off a 2-1 favourite in 1935.
The Aintree challenge is a very different beast now. But over four miles of the most famous fences in the world is still a test to make such skimpy odds seem like a bookmakers benefit.
Admittedly in Tiger Roll’s favour is that he’s been here and done it already while giving every impression he’s probably a better horse again this season.
However even the prospect of Tiger Roll in the form of his life can’t quell persistent non-sentimental suspicions that humping 11.5 around Aintree represents a formidable ask even for him.
He still appears to represent much the best chance of Elliott securing a third National and emulating Vincent O’Brien as Ireland’s most successful ever trainer in the race.
Silver Birch’s 2007 victory announced a then mostly unknown young trainer to the world. Tiger Roll’s success over Pleasant Company last year might even have been as sweet considering it came at the expense of Elliott’s greatest competition.
Both he and Mullins have transformed the face of racing at home and it would be no surprise if they were to once again dominate Saturday’s Aintree finish.
Each warmed up for the National by saddling two winners apiece at Aintree on Friday. Mullins’s Min landed the JLT Chase while Cadmium scored over the National fences in the Topham.
Their stable companion Aramon had to give best to Felix Desjy in the earlier Betway Novices Hurdle while Three Musketeers also scored for Elliott in a handicap hurdle.
If Tiger Roll is very much Elliott’s No.1 then it is Rathvinden rather than Pleasant Company who looks to fulfil a similar status for Mullins.
That he’s Ruby Walsh’s pick is no surprise considering he can boast the stamina to have won last year’s four-miler at Cheltenham and runs on the back of a fine win in a recognised National trial at Fairyhouse in February.
Rathvinden was a quality novice hurdler in his young days and while injury problems have restricted him to just 19 career starts in all it means he’s hardly a handy fit for the role of 11 year-old exposed veteran now. On just 11 stone he looks fairly weighted.
The Gold Cup runner-up Anibale Fly has to concede weight all round and looks to face a formidable task just three weeks after a career best performance at Cheltenham.
Jessica Harrington’s first ever National runner, Magic Of Light, could run a big race at a big price while Rachael Blackmore will have a second National ride aboard another outsider, Valseur Lido.
Should any one of the 20 raiders set to line up on Saturday emerge on top they will provide a 27th Irish trained win in the National. They will also be a ninth Irish winner in the last 21 years, an unprecedented rate of success at Aintree.
Among Elliott’s reserves A Toi Phil could outrun massive odds. So much of the narrative revolves around Tiger Roll and his tilt at history although ultimately it could be worth betting that Mullins’s No. 13, Rathvinden, can change his National luck this time.
Leopardstown’s classic trials programme on Saturday is inevitably swamped for focus by the National.
However if Madhmoon earns a ticket to Newmarket next month by landing the Ballylinch 2,000 Guineas Trial it will be a very popular win for his veteran 86-year-old trainer Kevin Prendergast.
National – 1 Rathvinden. 2 Tiger Roll. 3 A Toi Phil 4 Joe Farrell