Tiger Roll Saga: O’Leary should regret Aintree decision regardless of Bowl result

Tiger Roll Aintree

Michael O’Leary’s decision to remove Tiger Roll from the Grand National has perhaps been the biggest piece of horse racing news in 2021. A date with history awaited him at Aintree on Saturday, before his owners pulled the plug on his chance.

We’ll have Grand National tips regardless of the Tiger’s omission, but I want to give my view on the Tiger Roll saga. It has already been much debated, but my opinion has remained and I’m going to take a more analytical approach to the debate.

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Parallels to 2019

Little Tiger Roll won his first National off a mark of 150 in 2018 and was subsequently handed a rating of 159 for the 2019 renewal. After being slapped with that rise, he slammed the cross country field at Cheltenham with contempt. It remains one of the most impressive festival victories in recent years and justified his mark of 159 for the National, the race he’d win just a few weeks later.

Tiger Roll, prior to Cheltenham, had been below form this season in races that didn’t play to his strengths. As a result, the handicapper was never going to budge far. A comfortable winner of the 2019 National, he would have carried seven pounds more on Saturday.

Gigginstown claimed that to be “unfair”, but I can’t personally agree. The fairness theory was further thrown into question when he returned to his glorious best a few weeks ago. Winning by eighteen lengths in a canter, it’s easy to draw parallels to 2019, where he did the exact same thing before a National triumph.

The Tiger roars in the spring

The trainer’s representative on the day of his 2021 triumph run said he relished a return to Cheltenham in the spring, with this being his first run on spring ground since his previous tilt at the cross country. He always saves his best for this time of year, as shown by his form figures in cross country races at Cheltenham:

  • November/December: 54P
  • March: 1121

The spring is his time of year and when he has his optimum conditions, he runs like a horse rated in the mid to high 160s. The O’Leary’s can argue until the cows come home, but that festival romp proved his mark to be completely justified.

The Bowl is a lose lose

Whatever happens at Aintree this week, it’s a lose-lose situation for Gigginstown. The Aintree Bowl will be his first tilt at Grade 1 company over fences and if he acquits himself well, it will prove the handicapper totally correct.

The O’Leary’s are likely to paint Thursday as vindication, whatever the result, but I can’t see it that way. Even if he’s beaten, this was never going to be a race that played to his strengths and isn’t a fair reflection on whether he’s truly 167 rated.

Simply put, Tiger Roll is a unique horse. He’s not good enough for Grade 1 level at around three miles, but he’s a class above over cross country obstacles in marathon events. Whatever happens on Thursday, his omission from the National is just hugely disappointing.

Winning the Grand National once is a lifetime achievement for many jockeys, trainers and owners. The world’s most famous steeplechase is notoriously difficult to win and a Grand National horse doesn’t come around often, if at all, for most yards. You need a unique stayer for the prize. After all, this is no ordinary handicap, and although stamina does ultimately win the day, you also need a classy individual who jumps like a stag.

No matter how you look at it, we’ve been robbed of a historic moment not just in horse racing, but in British history. People who don’t know racing can tell you who Red Rum is. My step-dad, who knows little to nothing about racing, can list off the years when Red Rum won his Nationals. The same comments can apply to Tiger Roll and he could have been this generation’s Red Rum.

It’s hard to skate around it, ultimately, we’ve been robbed another chapter of Aintree folklore.

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