Talking Horses: weighty problem over Tiger Roll and the Grand National

Chris Cook
The Guardian
<span>Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian</span>
Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian

Tiger Roll’s chance of winning a third Grand National hangs in the balance and will do so until the weights are unveiled for the famous race at a ceremony in Liverpool 12 days from now. I’m very much afraid that his owners are not going to be given everything they want by the official handicapper and there is therefore the distinct possibility that the horse may be withdrawn before the race itself in early April.

Eddie O’Leary, who runs the ownership operation on behalf of his brother, Michael, made it clear in quotes reported by the Racing Post this morning that the setting of the Grand National weights will determine whether Tiger Roll lines up, having won the race for the past two years. “I have a figure in my head but I’m not going to mention it,” O’Leary said. “If he hits that figure, he runs, and if he doesn’t he won’t be running.”

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Related: Talking Horses: Shake-up to Starting Prices moves significant step closer

What O’Leary wants is for Tiger Roll to run off a lower rating than he would normally have, owing to his position as top-weight in the National. This might sound like asking for a favour but is in fact perfectly reasonable, because it follows the handicapper’s established ‘compression’ policy in place for more than a decade, initially reflecting a desire to tempt better horses into the race.

But O’Leary is hoping for too much, I think, when he says: “They’ve compressed the race by 8lb on average for the past 10 years.” The BHA’s handicappers have been suggesting for years that compression has done its job and should be tapered away over time.

Bristol De Mai, rated 173 when the weights were set a year ago, was compressed by just 5lb, the handicapper reasoning that if he didn’t compress his rating, half the field might be running from out of the weights. Tiger Roll, now rated 172, can expect similar treatment. There would be a case for reducing that mark still further if he were miles clear at the top of the weights for this year’s race but Bristol De Mai is up there again on 170 and Native River on 168.

Will a 5lb compression be enough to persuade the O’Learys to let Tiger Roll have his shot at history? We must hope so.

Thursday’s best bets

One of the most interesting performances of Boxing Day was put up by Hugo ‘N Taz to win the Lincolnshire National on his first start since joining David Pipe from Ireland, when he proved so well handicapped that the others had essentially no chance if he cleared the fences.

In the circumstances, it was a game effort by Cyclop (2.20) to go down by just four lengths and I have to give him another chance at 12-1 at Wincanton. He hasn’t won for a couple of years and two lengthy absences suggest there have been problems but he is 5lb below his last winning mark, so that return to form makes him interesting, especially with the in-form claimer Jack Tudor climbing aboard.

Two races later, Haldon Hill (3.25) is of some interest at 13-2 in his first handicap over fences. He showed some promise before getting tired in a handicap hurdle in November, his first outing since March, and has been dropped 5lb since then for being well held in a couple of novice chases at Hereford. This looks a much better opportunity and Victor Dartnall’s charge should be more comfortable on this less taxing surface.

I imagine it will be pretty taxing at Ffos Las, where Keep Wondering (3.15) can hopefully keep on going. He was a fair third over hurdles on his handicap debut on New Year’s Eve and this switch to a novice handicap chase should suit him, as a point to point winner. Dave Crosse can hopefully steer him home at 7-4 or so.

In the last, 4-1 is fair about Jimmyjames (4.20), who seemed on his way to victory at Chepstow a fortnight ago, just his second start since joining Tim Vaughan from Ireland, but stopped quickly. A tongue tie is fitted and he steps back in trip.

Southwell 12.50 Red Invader 1.20 Augustus Caesar 1.55 Arabian King 2.30 Dark Regard 3.05 Jazz Hands 3.35 Yukon Mission 4.05 Silverturnstogold

Wincanton 1.10 Potters Vision 1.45 Earth Moor 2.20 Cyclop (nb) 2.55 Glory And Fortune 3.25 Haldon Hill 3.55 Mustmeetalady 4.30 Lydford Lad 

Ffos Las 1.35 Ring The Moon 2.10 Pileon 2.45 Present Value 3.15 Keep Wondering (nap) 3.45 Dusky Hercules 4.20 Jimmyjames

Chelmsford 5.00 Parknacilla 5.30 Phoenix Star 6.00 Nigel Nott 6.30 Foxy Forever 7.00 Guardia Svizzera 7.30 Thai Terrier 8.00 Famous Dynasty

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