Trainer Gordon Elliott was overcome with emotion as Tiger Roll, ridden by Davy Russell, returned after winning his second consecutive Aintree Grand National in 2019.
Elliott, in tears, reacted: “Everyone loves him. He is the people’s horse. I cannot believe it.”
Tiger Roll, a nine-year-old by Authorized carrying 11st 5lb, became the first horse since Red Rum in 1974 to win two Aintree Grand Nationals. He was sent off the 4/1 favourite, and beat 66/1 chance Magic Of Light (Jessica Harrington/Paddy Kennedy) by two and three-quarter lengths.
Elliott, for whom it was a third Grand National success – he also trained Silver Birch to win the 2007 renewal of the £1-million race, said: “We work very hard for this the whole time. I’ve got a brilliant team behind me, and all my family at home. Davy Russell’s mother died last year, and this was for her, and my uncle Willie Elliott died this year and this was for him.”
Asked to sum up his brilliant horse, who now has four Cheltenham Festival wins and two Grand National victories to his name, Elliott shook his head and just said: “Tiger.”
Russell reacted: “What can I say, Tiger Roll is just an unbelievable horse. I was running away for most of the race. It was marvellous – he gave a couple of stumbles and I think the blinkers lit him up.”
The 39-year-old, who won his first Grand National on Tiger Roll 12 months earlier, said: “I can’t believe it. That’s the man there (gesturing to Gordon Elliott). He’s the man in charge and has done a great job, along with Karen and Keith, Michael and Anita, and Eddie. At my age now to be winning two Grand Nationals……
“He’s one hell of a horse. The O’Learys have been so good to me throughout my career, and Gordon too. What can I say.
“Tiger Roll is just an amazing hose. He travelled really well throughout the race. I was a little bit afraid the blinkers had lit him up a bit too much but Gordon knew what he was doing. I don’t think there’s been a horse winning blinkers in a long time, but he was so good.
“He gave a couple of stumbles at the back of a few fences but every time he gave a stumble he went and jumped the next one really well. He’d keep you on your toes the whole time.
“For some reason he met a lot of fences closer than normal, but he had an awful lot of respect for them. I feel the cross-country races really crowned him, as they’ve taught him how to use his feet a little bit better. He used to be a bit of a bulldozer in his early days but knows now that it’s a lot easier not to bulldoze them.
“I was a little bit worried when we were walking around at the start as he got a little bit anti, but Denis O’Regan on another horse of Gigginstown guided him back to the bunch and I knew once he was in the bunch he was happy.
“When he went to the front he was still quite strong on the bridle but he’s a bit of a show off. I’d been a bit worried going round that he was doing a little bit too much, so I was trying to cool myself down and to cool him down too, which helped him a little bit. I was just afraid he wouldn’t get a puncture if you know what I mean.”
Tiger Roll is owned by Gigginstown House Stud, the racing and breeding operation of Ryanair supremo Michael O’ Leary.
O’Leary said: ” It’s just unbelievable. I thought that he genuinely had no chance today carrying that weight, but it was a beautiful ride and a phenomenal training performance by Gordon. It’s brilliant he keeps bringing this horse back to Cheltenham better than ever and Aintree better than ever. What a ride by Davy – fantastic!
“Tiger Roll has got a stage now where you just want to mind him. You run the risk every time he runs, you think ‘Oh my God, please don’t let anything happen to him’ and it is unbelievable to win two Grand Nationals. It’s incredible. It’s a great result for the punters; it’s fantastic.”
DETAILS FROM DAVY RUSSELL
Davy Russell could not wait for the media interviews to finish after the Grand National so he could phone his Tiger Roll-mad family at home in Ireland.
Russell said: “I’ve got four children and one on the way, and my son, Finn, who is three, is obsessed with Tiger Roll. He thinks this is so easy, because he’s watched two Grand Nationals in his life and I’ve won both of them on Tiger Roll.”
One of the few moments of concern for Russell came before the race when Tiger Roll dug his toes in on the way to the start. He said: “I don’t know what got into his head – he just got a little bit ‘antsy’ with himself. If he doesn’t want to do something he won’t, and he got a bit silly back at the start. Denis Regan came up and gave him a lead and he was fine when he was back among the others. For a moment, I was worried I wouldn’t get a good position when they lined up.
“[In the race] He travelled really well and at times I thought he was overdoing it, but he jumped so well and is so quick. I just kept getting him back because he was passing horses in the air. He’s a spectacular horse, an athlete, and he loves to run and jump.
“Keith Donoghue [who won the Glenfarclas Chase on Tiger Roll at the Cheltenham Festival] has spent a lot of time on Tiger Roll’s jumping and I think that’s why he has won two Grand Nationals. When he started chasing he used to be a bit of a bulldozer at the fences, but since he started jumping cross country fences he’s learned to be a bit more nimble.
“It was helter-skelter over the first couple of fences and got a bit tight at times – to be honest I can’t remember much about it – and I was chopped for a bit of room going down to the Canal Turn first time. I didn’t want to get into a row with anybody at that stage, because I knew that when we came to a jump and if he met it on a stride he would get by them.
“It’s unbelievable for me, because Presenting Percy [who he rides] has a very good following in Ireland, but people who have never seen a horse in their life know Tiger Roll. The people adore him – he’s not a big, fine, good-looking horse, but at home people walk past his stable and say hello to him as if he’s a human being. It’s just unreal.
“I know it’s silly, but I believe he knows his name. Going to the start, when we were parading, the commentator said his name and he stood up and put his chest out. Louise who was leading him up noticed it, too. He’s so intelligent.”
ELABORATION FROM GORDON ELLIOTT
After receiving his prize as winning trainer of the 2019 £1-million Grand National – his third success in the race – Gordon Elliott talked further about Tiger Roll, who has followed up his 2018 victory with a two and three-quarter length defeat of 66/1 chance Magic Of Light and justified 4/1 favouritism in the world’s greatest race.
Elliott said: “It’s unbelievable. We had 11 runners in the race. When Silver Birch won [in 2007], I probably didn’t appreciate it enough, and when Tiger Roll won last year it was unbelievable. This year, if any of the 11 horses had won, it would have been great, but Tiger is a bit special. The stats were against him, and we were hoping and wishing and praying he could win, but I thought it was probably impossible, so for him to do it… Hopefully he will now get the recognition he deserves and go down as one of the greats.
“Michael [O’Leary, the winning owner] has two statues in his house, of War Of Attrition and Don Cossack [his Cheltenham Gold Cup winners] and he said he wasn’t about to put one up for this lad. If he doesn’t, I hope he stuffs him and keeps him!
“You are always hopeful more than confident. To be 7/2 or 4/1 to win it is lunacy. You’d want to be 10/1 to jump round, never mind win the race. Tiger wears his heart on his sleeve, he takes a chance at everything. He wants it more than anything. He’s a bit special. Tiger Roll’s a gentleman. He doesn’t do anything fancy – he just wants to please you the whole time. He is the horse of a lifetime, I suppose.
“Everyone who knows me knows I am easy enough going, and I would have been very happy if any of my horses had won, but Tiger is a bit special. My uncle passed away this year and if it hadn’t been for him, I wouldn’t even know what a horse was. He used to ride in point to points and had a few horses when I was a young lad. He will be looking down on me. My mum and dad are at home; I don’t have a flight home, but I’d ask Michael if he has a seat on the plane because I’d like to go home tonight to see my mother and father.
“You talk about legends. Tiger Roll has won two Grand Nationals and four races at the Cheltenham Festival [2014 G1 Triumph Hurdle, 2017 G2 National Hunt Chase, 2018 and 2019 Cross Country Chase] – he’s already a legend for me.”
Elliott admitted that when Tiger Roll turned up in his yard in the winter of 2013/2014, he wasn’t overly impressed with the little horse.
He said: “I wasn’t the number one trainer for Gigginstown, and there was a horse that I had recommended they buy and that I wanted. It went to another trainer, and that was probably the first and last time Michael and I had cross words – I threw my toys out of the pram a bit. Michael said, ‘enough’s enough, don’t say anything more about it.’ I got two horses, one of which won a race or two, and the other was Tiger Roll. The horse I wanted ended up being no good. If you don’t have luck on your side, you have nothing. The rest is history.”
MORE QUOTES FROM THE WINNING TEAM
Owner Michael O’Leary’s brother Eddie O’Leary manages Gigginstown House Stud’s horses. He said: “He is now a superstar. It’s unbelievable and I am so thrilled for everyone, for Gordon and the lads, he is a special horse. He was bought for the Fred Winter! He is a marvellous horse and God bless him.”
Davy Russell remarked: “This horse is amazing and this place is amazing. People go one about certain sporting events but Liverpool and Aintree are just so far ahead. People come here in their droves to cheer on such a fantastic event and they can be so proud of what they have, it’s so well run. It touches so many people around the world and I am so proud to be part of it. I can’t believe it, I really can’t.
“Tommy Stack is a Tipperary man and I was in awe of Tommy Stack – I still am, he’s a marvellous man and I love spending time with him for the simple reason of this race.
“Myself and Gordon have soldiered a long way and dad is here today. I asked him if he had ever been to Aintree before and he said years ago. He booked his flight and hotel on Wednesday morning and said he was coming and that was it. It’s a marvellous thing.
“It was easy on Tiger Roll because he barely gets over the fences, he just flicks across the top of them. At times, you are thinking ‘Jesus, he wants to lift his legs a little bit’ but I can’t believe it, I really can’t.”
Gordon Elliott declared: “What a horse! What a horse! This is up there because we work very hard for this the whole time. I have a brilliant team behind me – my family are all at home. Davy Russell’s mother died last year, so this is for her today. My uncle died this year and I wouldn’t be in horses if it wasn’t for him and this is for him.
“He is unbelievable, the horse of a lifetime. For all my friends, for my family, my mother, my father, my brother and three sisters, and everyone in yard, from my head man Simon McGonagle to the last person who came to work for me, Summerhill, where I am from, it’s brilliant. They will all be enjoying it.
“From the last home, I was nervous again. He was travelling so well. He is named well – he is a tiger and he wants to win. As everyone knows, I don’t get too upset too often. I am a little emotional today but, for my whole yard and for everyone, this is what it is all about and you dream about this.
“To win three Grand Nationals. Gigginstown, Michael, Anita and Eddie, Wendy and Mags, who buy all the horses, Joe at home on the farm and everyone connected with the whole place. I am forgetting people, the vets, my own vet Eduardo and the team and Gerry Kelly – we all work together with this horse. I don’t wasn’t to sound like I am being patronising but it is unbelievable.
“There was no pressure. Pressure doesn’t really get to me and I had 11 runners in the race and, if anyone of them had won, I would have been very happy and delighted. But for Tiger to win, it’s a bit emotional. He is a star and I can’t wait to get home to Summerhill and Trim to see everyone.”
“IT WAS AN OUT-OF-BODY EXPERIENCE!”
Tiger Roll’s owner Michael O’Leary in the press conference following the Grand National.
“It really feels like an out-of-body experience. Last year was a wonderful surprise, but this year there was no pressure at all, frankly I didn’t think he had any chance of winning having gone up in the weights to 11 stone five pounds. I was much more worried that he would come back safely – he has got to the stage that I get more nervous watching him than I do of any of the other horses, less anything happens to him.
“The bizarre thing is that it seemed to be an easier, more comfortable ride and a better win than last year; he always seemed to be in the right place, he stumbled twice, and four from home that woke him up. There was never a moment’s worry, it was bizarre.
“You grew up as a kid in Ireland and the race you first become aware of is the Grand National, it is not the Gold Cup. We all had our first bet on the Grand National, I went into a bookmaker’s shop to put a bet on the Grand National without my mother knowing! To win once is a dream come true, to win three times is Trevor Hemmings-esque. I hope Trevor wins it next year and takes the score to four-three!”
“Running Tiger Roll in the Grand National today was not a certainty. As you know he is not a big horse and he has gone up nine pounds in the handicap – if the ground had been soft today or Anibale Fly had come out we would not have run. I was asked outside if he will come back for the hat-trick and I think probably not – he will get another eight or nine pounds from the Cheltenham Cross Country win, he could be humping 12 stone [11 stone 10 pounds is the highest allotted weight] around here next year, I think it will be unlikely. Much more likely, if he is fit and well, we’ll aim him for the Cross Country at Cheltenham. If he could win that for a third time, I think we’ll retire him.
“He’ll be entered here, but he will be so heavily weighted – Red Rum won three times, but I don’t want to bring him back carrying 12 stone.
“Is he the best purchase I have every made? I was asked that outside, but I was standing by my wife so I said, ‘Yes after the engagement ring!’ He is probably the second-best purchase I have ever made in my life.
“Eddie my brother buys these horses and you look across the record he has over the last ten years – we’ve won two Gold Cups, three Grand Nationals, four Irish Grand Nationals, my brother is a genius, the clever one in the family at identifying these horses. All I have to do is write the cheques, which is straightforward. Eddie is delivering incredible success.
“But money couldn’t buy you days like this, it can’t buy you experiences like this – I have four children at home jumping up and down on the sofa cheering on Tiger Roll.
“When I was a child growing up I never dreamed you could own horses like Tiger Roll, the Irish didn’t have runners in the Grand National in the ’60s and ’70s, and now we are not just entering it, we are winning it as well.
“We are not tempted by the Gold Cup – he is a small horse, the Gold Cup is such an attritional race. He has won four times at Cheltenham, and if he were to go back and win five times at Cheltenham – what more do you want from the horse? I think at that stage I would mind every precious hair in his body.
“The Ryanair flight home last year ran 30 minutes late and there was a free bar on board – it will probably run another 30 minutes late again today and there will be another free bar on board. If the cost of winning the Grand National each year is a free bar on board on the flight from Liverpool to Dublin, it is money well spent!
“You look at the team we have – Eddie has a phenomenal record, he is buying very young horses and he makes silk purses out of sow’s ears. We first came across Gordon after he won the Grand National with Silver Birch and we thought who the hell is he? He also comes from County Meath and we are from Westmeath, and the people from Meath kinda look down on us as we are the poor peasants!
“There is a lot of criticism in racing of the big trainers and the big owners, and the answer I make all the time is Gordon Elliott. He started off with nothing, he has built an incredible training career (though he is too young to have a career!), an incredible training operation with nothing, only the sweat of his back. He didn’t have a background in racing, and he has built the second-most powerful training operation in Ireland behind Willie Mullins – you are still second behind Willie, but you get getting closer and closer!
“His record at Cheltenham, at Liverpool, he is an incredibly talented trainer and he is the answer to everyone else who says you need to have luck, or relations or money – proves you just need to work incredibly hard, which is what he does and he delivers extraordinary results.
“He also throws very good parties at Summerhill in County Meath and there will be one there tomorrow afternoon at about 2pm!”
Jessica Harrington joined the many who paid tribute to mighty Tiger Roll after her mare, Magic Of Light, finished second to him in today’s Randox Health Grand National.
Sent off at 66/1 under Paddy Kennedy, Magic Of Light was beaten 2¾ lengths, but finished 2¼ lengths clear of third home Rathvinden (8/1). Walk In The Mill was fourth at 25/1.
Harrington said: “Tiger Roll is an amazing horse, and much better this year than last year. He is the most gorgeous little horse and a joy to watch over these fences.”
Of Magic Of Light, who became the first mare to be placed in the National since Dubacilla in 1995, Harrington said: “Paddy said she was doing too much and just running away – she loved it. I didn’t expect her to run so well, and Robbie [Power, her first jockey] said don’t bring her here – take her to the Irish National because the Aintree fences are too big for her.
“Then I took her to the Curragh to give Sandymount Duke a lead over their spruce fences, and she jumped them so well I said ‘Sod it, I’ll run her’. I’m glad I did, especially with Sandymount Duke having to be withdrawn.
“All the way round I kept thinking, she’s going too easily, but then I saw Tiger Roll on her inside and I thought, oh no – yet she came back at him. She’s amazing, the only mare in the race and only eight.
“Paddy is Jack Kennedy’s older brother, and he rides out with me every morning and has ridden some good winners for me. He has his own breaking and pre-training yard. He is basically my second jockey, and when Robbie wanted to ride Jury Duty, who was owned by a friend of his who died, and our mare was a huge price, I said, yes, go ahead, and Paddy can ride the mare.”
Kennedy returned with a cut lip, and said: “At The Chair she came out of my hands and I nearly came out over her head – luckily my head hit her head and that stopped me coming off!
“I couldn’t believe how well she went, on my first ride in the National as well – she never missed a beat. She knew more than I did – she was grand. I saw Tiger Roll and I gave Davy a roar as he came past as he was going so much better than me. For a little bit at the Elbow I thought I might reel him in after what happened last year, but he was gusty and pulled out plenty.
“My horse she galloped all the way to the line, she is only an eight-year-old, she might be back here again.”
FACTS AND FIGURES FOLLOWING TIGER ROLL’S VICTORY 2019
- Tiger Roll is the fourth shortest-priced favourite ever to win the Grand National at 4/1. He is the shortest-priced winning favourite since Poethlyn in 1919, who started at 11/4.
- Tiger Roll became the 27th winner of the Randox Health Grand National to be trained in Ireland and he led home an Irish 1-2-3. However, this did not quite match the 2018 finish, which saw an unprecedented 1-2-3-4 for Irish-trained horses.
- Tiger Roll is the fifth back-to-back winner of the Grand National following Abd-El-Kader (1850 and 1851), The Colonel (1869 and 1870), Reynoldstown (1935 and 1936) and Red Rum (1973 and 1974). Three others have won the race twice, namely Peter Simple (1849 and 1853), The Lamb (1868 and 1871) and Manifesto (1897 and 1899).
- Gordon Elliott has become the eighth trainer in Grand National history to saddle three winners of the great race. The most recent trainer to have achieved this was the late Tim Forster who saddled the winners in 1972 (Well To Do), 1980 (Ben Nevis) and 1985 (Last Suspect).
- Davy Russell has now won two Randox Health Grand Nationals in succession on Tiger Roll. He is the first jockey to do this since Leighton Aspell scored on Pineau De Re in 2014 and Many Clouds in 2015.
- Davy Russell at 39 is one of the oldest riders to capture the Grand National in the race’s history. The oldest was 48-year-old amateur Dick Saunders on Grittar in 1982.
- Tiger Roll became the 46th nine-year-old – the most successful age group – in the 172 runnings of the Grand National where the winner’s age was recorded.
- Tiger Roll carried the third joint-highest weight to victory in the last 22 runnings, with his 11st 5lb emulated by Don’t Push it in 2010 and beaten by Neptune Collonges (2012, 11st 6lb) and Many Clouds (2015, 11st 9lb).
- Gigginstown House Stud are now the joint most successful Grand National winning owners ever with three winners: Rule The World (2016) and Tiger Roll (2018 and 2019). Four other entities have won three Grand Nationals, most recently Noel Le Mare (Red Rum 1973, 1974 and 1977) and Trevor Hemmings (Hedgehunter 2005, Ballabriggs 2011 and Many Clouds 2015).
- This was the 172nd running of the Randox Health Grand National, and for the 17th year in a row a sell-out crowd of 70,000 was witness to it.
Photographs courtesy of Aintree Racecourse.
Karen can usually be found glued to her computer or at the stables. Having edited several national magazines she co-founded Eclipse Magazine in 2008 after realising that many of her friends were nervous about going racing due to lack of information – what to wear, how to bet etc.
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