Tiger Roll negotiated another step on the path back to Aintree and an attempt to win a historic third Grand National on Tuesday, as the decision to compress his handicap mark by only 1lb prompted an expression of disappointment from his owners and a suggestion Michael O’Leary’s 10-year-old remains “50-50” to run in the world’s most famous steeplechase on 4 April.
Given some of the rumblings from the O’Leary camp in the run-up to the publication of the National weights, that has to be seen as a positive. Eddie O’Leary, racing manager for his brother’s Gigginstown Stud operation, had suggested he had “a figure” in his head and that “if he hits that figure he runs and if he doesn’t, he won’t be running”. Whatever his figure was, it surely was not “1”, yet for the moment at least, Tiger Roll is still a contender.
“[The weight] is a massive factor,” O’Leary said. “We’ve said the whole way through this horse is on a very unfair rating. He was raised 12lb last year for winning a cross-country race [at the Cheltenham Festival].
“The last time this horse ran in a [standard] chase was two-and-a-half years ago and he pulled up off 150. He’s obviously improved for the Grand National discipline and cross-country, but to rate this horse as a winner of a Gold Cup is ridiculous. Native River, a Gold Cup winner, hacked up last Saturday. He’s been compressed 2lb and we have to give him 4lb. I see something very unfair there.
“The decision is now in our hands whether we run or not. Tiger is invaluable to us and we have to look after him. Hopefully he comes through the Navan test [in Sunday’s Boyne Hurdle] and then goes on to Cheltenham and hopefully shows us more there. Then we’ll decide, but at the moment, it’s 50-50. The Betway Bowl [the day before the National] is definitely coming into calculations now.”
Tiger Roll’s owners are a little put out, in other words but a long way from deciding to take their bat home. O’Leary’s comments are also a useful reminder that while what could be the biggest racing story for half a century is still a possibility, there are several more obstacles to negotiate before a third tilt at the National is even a shade of odds-on.
First, a horse that has already suffered one injury setback this year needs to come through his first start since last year’s Grand National at Navan this weekend. It is a race he won – at 25-1, no less – last season but no similar heroics are anticipated this time around. “Pulled up with a smile on his face” will suffice for Tiger Roll’s owners.
Southwell 1.45 Seven Clans 2.20 Coolagh Magic 2.55 Badayel 3.25 Tynecastle Park 4.00 Jorvik Prince 4.35 Robsdelight
Hereford 1.35 Againn Dul Aghaidh 2.05 Frisson Collonges 2.40 Cuban Sun 3.10 Aye Aye Charlie (nb) 3.40 Carrolls Milan 4.15 Wye Aye 4.50 With Pleasure
Kempton Park 5.00 Kybosh 5.30 Omnivega 6.00 Meghan Sparkle 6.30 Lyricist Voice 7.00 Candelisa 7.30 Manjaam 8.00 True Belief (nap) 8.30 Elusif
Even then, Tiger Roll still needs to meet the entry requirement that National runners must have run over fences in the current season. If he were to miss the Cross-Country at Cheltenham in March for any reason, he could be fit and well again on the morning of 4 April but barred from running in the race he has made his own over the last two years. There is a strong sense of many twists and turns to come on the road ahead.
The prospect of Tiger Roll attempting to emulate – and in some senses, surpass – Red Rum has been captivating racing fans since he crossed the line at Aintree last year.
Few of us, after all, ever thought we would see a dual winner again, as the modern National is more ferociously competitive than ever and pretty much every one of the 40 runners will go to post with at least an outside chance. A three-times winner is the stuff of fantasy.
It is a story that still needs to be taken episode by episode, with no mental flicking through the box set to a potential date with destiny in early April but the dream is still alive, and it remains a distinct possibility that Liverpool will be at the centre of the sporting world not once, but twice this spring.