Oisin Keniry/INPHO Tiger Roll with Gordon Elliott and Michael O'Leary last year.
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Donn McClean: 2020 Grand National wouldn't be the same without Tiger Roll
It would be like the 1978 Grand National without Red Rum, or Grandstand without Des Lynam.

WHEN TIGER ROLL won the Aintree Grand National in 2018, he carried 10st 13lb and won by a head.

When Tiger Roll won the Aintree Grand National in 2019, he carried 11st 5lb and won by two and three-quarter lengths.

At the publication of the 2020 Randox Health Grand National weights on Tuesday, it was revealed that, if Tiger Roll runs in the 2020 renewal, he will carry top weight of 11st 10lb.

But we knew that that would be the case, really, even before the publication of the weights.

It’s not as much about the absolute weight as it is about the relative weight. Can Tiger Roll win the Grand National with 5lb more to carry than the 11st 5lb that he carried last year?

Of course he can. You can argue that there is a premium on every extra pound when you go towards the top of the handicap, and that weight counts for more than it usually does when you are talking about marathon distances, and that Tiger Roll is not overly big. He is not one of those 17hh horses who could carry you and your armour into battle. Even so. An extra 5lb shouldn’t stop him.

But it’s the relative weight. It’s the weight that Gordon Elliott’s horse has to carry relative to the weight that his rivals have to carry, and that is determined by his handicap rating.

Last year, Tiger Roll raced off a handicap rating of 159. This year, the Gigginstown House horse has been given a Grand National handicap rating of 170. So 11lb higher than last year. He is 11lb higher relative to his rivals, not 5lb higher. To put it into context, last year, he carried 5lb less than Anibale Fly carried. This year, he will carry 8lb more. Tiger Roll was raised by 11lb, 159 to 170, while Anibale Fly was dropped by 2lb, 164 to 162. That’s a 13lb swing.

There was much talk about the weights in the lead up to Tuesday. Eddie O’Leary of Gigginstown House was adamant that Tiger Roll would not be asked to compete if the handicapper set him an unfair task.

The bar was set last year, when Tiger Roll was raised to a handicap rating of 172 after winning last year’s Grand National. It was a 13lb hike, a massive hike for a nine-year-old who was racing for the 20th time over fences, the magnitude of which was probably influenced by the fact that he was 8lb well-in last year.

To put that mark into context, last year’s Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Al Boum Photo is rated 175, just 3lb higher. Altior is also rated 175. The King George winner Clan Des Obeaux is rated 173, just 1lb higher than Tiger Roll was.

The handicapper relented a little. He dropped Tiger Roll by 1lb to a mark of 171, despite the fact that last year’s Grand National is working out well. Then on Tuesday, the handicapper dropped Tiger Roll’s Grand National rating by another 1lb to a mark of 170. He compressed the weight by 1lb, not by as much as his owners hoped he would.

tiger-roll-getting-washed-after-morning-work Morgan Treacy / INPHO Tiger Roll is washed at Gordon Elliott's yard in Meath. Morgan Treacy / INPHO / INPHO

Tiger Roll is a remarkable racehorse. He wasn’t bred to be a Grand National winner, he doesn’t have the physique of a typical Grand National winner, and yet, now look. Two Grand Nationals in the bag and household-name status. The first horse since Red Rum to win two Grand Nationals in a row. He has already claimed his place in racing history.

It is difficult to know why he has been embedded so deeply into the public’s affections. Sure, two Grand Nationals, but it’s deeper than that. Perhaps it’s his stature, perhaps it’s the people around him, the entire package. Perhaps it’s his intelligence. The people who are closest to him, Gordon Elliott and Davy Russell and Keith Donoghue and Louise Magee, talk about his mentality as much as they talk about his physique.

They also talk about what he has already achieved. He has won a Triumph Hurdle, a Boyne Hurdle, a Munster National, a National Hunt Chase and two Cross-Country Chases. He has won four times at the Cheltenham Festival.

And the dual Grand National thing probably didn’t get the recognition that it deserved. We didn’t allow it set for that long before we started to talk and think about a third.

We are allowed to think about a third now though, to hope that his owners will allow him take his chance in this year’s race. It wouldn’t be the same without Tiger Roll. Like the 1978 Grand National was not the same without Red Rum. It was like Grandstand when Des Lynam left.

It’s not going to be easy. In one sense, it’s a mammoth task, to win a Grand National under 11st 10lb and off a handicap rating of 170. In another, it shouldn’t be easy. The Grand National has been going for over 180 years, and no horse has ever won three of them in a row.

When Red Rum won his first Grand National in 1973, when he was the fast-finishing villain in the Crisp drama, he carried just 10st 5lb. Runner-up Crisp carried 12st, while third-placed L’Escargot, the 1970 and 1971 Cheltenham Gold Cup winner, also carried 12st.

When Red Rum went back to Aintree in 1974 and won it again, he carried 12st while runner-up L’Ecsargot carried 11st 13lb.

Red Rum was allotted 12st again in 1975, and again in 1976, and he finished second on both occasions, once to old foe L’Escargot, once to Rag Trade, both of whom carried significantly less weight. Then Ginger McCain’s horse went back in 1977 as a 12-year-old and, under just 11st 8lb, claimed his third Grand National and secured his place in racing folklore.

The similarities between Tiger Roll and Red Rum are uncanny. Neither bred to win a Grand National, neither built to win a Grand National, yet both at home at the track and at ease with the race. Both with the athleticism and the intelligence to navigate their way through traffic and over the 30 unique fences, admittedly less fearsome in the Tiger Roll era than they were in the Red Rum era.

And like Red Rum, Tiger Roll won his first Grand National at the age of eight and his second at the age of nine. Red Rum ran in three more, winning one of them and finishing second in the other two, and it was heartening that Eddie O’Leary said on Tuesday that, all going well, Tiger Roll would race on next year too.

Two Grand Nationals is something special.  Three Grand Nationals would be something else.


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