The spirit of Red Rum returned to Aintree on Saturday when Tiger Roll, the 4-1 favourite, became the first horse since 1974 to win two Grand Nationals in a row, romping to a two and three quarter length victory in the spring sunshine at Aintree.
The 172nd Grand National will go down in Aintree folklore as the one when Tiger Roll, racing’s rockstar, was admitted to one of the most exclusive clubs in sport: a two time winner of the world’s greatest race.
Abd-El-Kader, The Colonel, The Lamb and Manifesto won twice in the 19th century when there were traditionally smaller fields but only Reynoldstown in 1935 and 1936, has joined that club in the last 100 years and Tiger Roll could now come back in 12 months’ time to try something even Red Rum could not manage; three in a row.
Of course the National may be a bit shorter now and the fences a bit more forgiving but that, in a way, is counter-balanced by the fact it is a generally a deeper, better race and, if anything, harder to win.
At the start it has not looked promising when the Gordon Elliott trained nine-year-old initially refused to line up with his 39 rivals but, with a lead from another runner in the Gigginstown colours, he re-joined them and from there on the further they went the better he went for Davy Russell.
Vintage Clouds fell at the first and brought down Up For Review, which caused that fence to be by-passed a second time round, but there were no fallers in the intervening circuit as Step Back, jumping right-handed, led them along.
On the second circuit a few mistakes began to creep in and the jumping started getting a bit ragged towards the back of the field. Richard Johnson’s hopes of riding his first winner in 21 attempts were dashed when Rock The Kasbah went at the 19th where Jury Duty and General Principle also came down.
Though Gordon Elliott had saddled 10 others besides Tiger Roll, it was Willie Mullins who appeared to have the strongest hand as they cleared Becher’s second time as Pleasant Company, Rathvinden and Livelovelaugh, three of his four, shared the lead with the mare Magic of Light and Walk In The Mill.
But Russell, who had been tucked in behind the leaders in about 10th for most for the race, began closing in on them as they headed for home and, though he was low over the fourth and third last, Tiger Roll joined the mare at the second last with Russell almost motionless while Paddy Kennedy, having the ride of a lifetime, was all hands to the pump on Magic of Light.
She, however, made a mistake at the last and, though keen not to repeat last year when he went soon enough, Russell was taken to the lead by Tiger Roll and only went he got to the elbow and hit the wall of noise cheering him home did he have to start riding him out.
“I can’t believe it,” said Russell, 39, who was once famously sacked as stable jockey by Michael O’Leary over a cup of tea. “At my age now, to win two Nationals – it’s madness. He’s one hell of a horse. The O’Leary’s have been so good to me throughout my career and Gordon? What can I say?”