Tiger Roll pulled out of Grand National again over long-running handicap dispute

Michael O’Leary claims and rating given to runner is behind the decision

Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary has ruled out Tiger Roll from a hat-trick attempt at the Randox Aintree Grand National in April, describing the horse's rating for the race by the British handicapper as "absurd."

It means the greatest National star of the modern era, hero of the world’s most famous steeplechase in 2018 and 2019, won’t get a chance to emulate the legendary Red Rum as a triple winner.

O’Leary wasted no time as his decision came shortly after the National weights were announced on Tuesday.

It comes on the back of a long running dispute between the Irish businessman and the senior British Horseracing Authority handicapper, Martin Greenwood, over his rating of Tiger Roll.


Last year the Ryanair chief executive described a mark of 166 as “patently unfair” and took Tiger Roll out of the race at an acceptance stage in early March.

Just a couple of weeks later the hugely popular veteran rolled back the years to win for a fifth time at the Cheltenham festival in the Cross Country Chase.

At Tuesday’s weights launch in Liverpool, Greenwood said he had “relented a bit” and assigned Tiger Roll a rating of 161, 4lbs lower than his last start over fences in December.

However O’Leary was unimpressed, said the mark was “manifestly wrong,” and added that he had to protect Tiger from the handicapper’s decision on a welfare basis.

“Tiger Roll is now 12 years old. He is clearly not as good as he was at eight or nine, and yet the UK handicapper now rates him 2lbs higher than his 159 rating in April 2019, when he won both the Boyne Hurdle and the Aintree Grand National.

“This rating is absurd, and unfair on a 12 year old chaser. It is a pity that the handicapper won’t give Tiger Roll either a fair rating, or a fair weight in the Aintree Grand National, where he could at least try to emulate Red Rum’s three Grand National wins,” the Ryanair chief executive said.

“However, the handicapper sets the weights, and even if he is manifestly wrong in the case of Tiger Roll, there is nothing we can do about it other than remove him from the race, since we don’t believe it is fair or safe to ask him to carry close to top weight at the age of 12.

“Since the top two horses in the handicap (Galvin and Conflated) won’t run in Aintree this year, Tiger Roll will have to carry either 11.8, or 11. 9 at the age of 12, which is three years after he carried 11.5 at the age of nine to win the great race in April 2019.

“Since we are responsible for the welfare of Tiger Roll, we must protect him from the idiotic opinion of this handicapper. We therefore regret to announce that he will not run in this year’s Aintree Grand National.

“Instead Tiger Roll will be trained for the Cross Country Race in Cheltenham, and there is every likelihood that win, lose or draw, this will be his last racecourse appearance. He will then return home for his well earned retirement here in Gigginstown for the rest of his days.

“It’s sadly clear from his ratings that this handicapper doesn’t want Tiger Roll to run in this year’s Grand National, he won’t give him a fair chance, and sadly, the race will be the poorer for his absence,” O’Leary concluded.

It was a dramatic move on a day that had earlier seen Tiger Roll's trainer Gordon Elliott suggest the National could be on the agenda again.

However the Gigginstown Stud team was clearly infuriated by Greenwood’s handicapping of Tiger Roll, particularly in comparison to his old rival, Easysland.

“Easyslands is our exact equal. Last year we beat him in the Cross Country on our ground. The previous year he beat us on his ground.

“He’s dropped 8lbs even though his only run in the meantime was pulled up in a hurdle race.

“He’s eight years old, coming to his peak: we’re 12, in a Zimmer-frame, and he gives us 4lbs,” spokesman Eddie O’Leary said.

“We have complained about the handicapping of one horse in our entire Gigginstown career. One horse and that’s it. We never complain about the handicapping of any horse, except this horse, because it has always been so patently wrong.

“We will look after our little warrior and if we get to Cheltenham we’ll be over the moon,” Eddie O’Leary added.

Irish trained horses make up half of the 104 entries left in the National and they include last year's winner Minella Times, who created history for jockey Rachael Blackmore.

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor is the racing correspondent of The Irish Times. He also writes the Tipping Point column